At what point do you start soliciting feedback on your work? I ask this because I think I've found a trap I routinely set for myself. I'll routinely start a story, then, within a few pages of writing or even just background development, I'll send it around to friends for feedback. Invariably, I lose interest or become daunted by some detail or plot point, and set it aside never to be revisited.
However, this time I'm holding back. I'm about three thousand words into a new story, and it's going well. Better than it has in years, in fact. But I'm getting antsy. I want to show it around, but I'm afraid it will end up abandoned like so many others.
In order to actually get the first novel written, I had to make a rule. If I had moved on more than a paragraph, I could not go back and revise until I had finished the whole thing. I could and did make notes about what I wanted to add or change, but I couldn't actually make the changes until I got to the end. It was a very good exercise. Because, before that, I had a tendency to revise the first ten or twenty pages endlessly. But that doesn't get the story written.
Generally, I would wait at least until I had completed a first draft to ask for feedback. Depending on the story, I might wait until I had been through it once or twice myself. There are things I should catch and correct myself before they get to reader, even an early reader.
Meredith: That is a very good self-restriction. I'm finding I may need to go to something similar. I have about 25K words now, but would have many more if I had focused on hammering out new scenes instead of working on existing ones. I think it's a negative element of perfectionism; I have a very hard time leaving those drafted scenes alone. Or maybe it's ADD, because it's definitely an issue of focus.
It usually goes like this: (1) Working on a new scene, I realize I need to update/change/delete something I've already written. Maybe it's a consistency thing, or maybe I realize that a character has found a voice that was missing earlier, or I may realize that some narrative needs to be inserted to make prior events more clear. (2) Rather than making a note of it and continuing on, I decide that I will "go fix it real quick." (3) Hours later, I'm in that scene making revisions.
The result, of course, is that I now have all those scenes in various stages of editing. In some ways, maybe this is not so bad, but I think I may be making a lot more work for myself, and I may be losing prior versions that would actually work better in the context of the final product.
Maybe it would be helpful to consider some questions ...
Are you sharing it too early, or with the wrong people?
What kind of feedback do you want when you share it? Why do you want it? Are you ready to revise the piece or do you simply want encouragement? Are the people you share it with able to be encouraging, sensitive enough not to kill off an idea before it's properly formed? Do the details and plot points have to be worked out right now? Could they wait, as Meredith suggests, until the piece is complete in first draft?
I think my "seeking feedback too early" problem goes back to having some of my best previous work being the result of collaboration with other authors. We'd email work back and forth and be in constant discussion about all aspects of the stories. All of my creative energies went into those projects over a period of years, and while it was fun, I can see now that I've developed some bad habits.
Frankly, I've got to man up and re-learn how to stand on my own as a writer.
[This message has been edited by xardoz (edited June 17, 2009).]
What I usually do is get an idea, develop some of the details in my mind before writing anything on paper, and then let my friends in on it and see what they think. THEN I'll get busy and write the first draft and see how the original idea blooms into a story. If this passes what I feel should be a good story. I'll polish it up and not look for readers until I feel its near or in the final draft. By this time, there might be a few rough spots that I need help smoothing out. That's where my readers come in, and most of the time they see things that I never would've noticed. I owe a lot to my readers. The ones I've had from Hatrack really know their stuff and have helped make my stories soar. You folks know who you are, and I tip my hat to you. You've earned my respect and my gratitude.
So my advice is don't let what your readers say get you down. Try to learn from what they are telling you and go from there. Maybe seek out different people to read your stories. I highly recommend those here on this forum. Their support is one of the best things that could've happened to me as a writer.
[This message has been edited by Crystal Stevens (edited June 17, 2009).]
I haven't had the opportunity to write anything new for a while. Things have recently changed, and I'm now in the process of finishing a project I started a few months back, as well as cleaning up some old stories. The main project was one that I threw out for Fragments and Feedback (obviously before it was completed). I've decided not to do that again - too much different advice and it held me up from actually working on the story. From now on, I'm completing the story first, working out my own kinks, and then throwing it out to the sharks and see how well it hooks.
Posts: 2003 | Registered: Jul 2008
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I think a good time is after a completed story has mellowed for a week or two and you are satisfied with what you've done. More importantly, a choice of who does the review may have an impact.
I don't want a family member who says, "That was great" in order to please me. Nor do I want the unimaginative guy who is going to say, "Sorry, I just don't get it." Instead I try to find someone who cares how a story is assembled and will give good constructive feedback.
I must say that in the past I have tried to share too early with similar results to what you describe. You can, if you are not careful, waste the exuberance of the initial rush that you get when you begin a story by sharing it before the story has gelled. I have also been writing a novel in a vacuum with no feed back in the first 60k words. It is a careful balancing act.
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xardoz, do you have a group of friends that would be willing to brainstorm with you? It sounds like what you're in need of is some reasonable sounding boards, people who would let you throw out your ideas, talk about your rough idea of plot, characterization, etc., and help you puzzle through the parts that you're having trouble with.
I know I find writing to be such a solitary thing. It really hangs me up sometimes, keeps me from writing. One thing that helps to unstick me is to pitch ideas at my in-person writer's group (meets at one of the big bookstores in my area. There's another that meets at my local library that I don't attend because the timing is poor for my schedule.)
Another is to talk on the phone or in person with one of my writing confidants. Of my writing confidants, some are writers, some are not. It's sometimes easier to do this with the non-writers because they just don't have their head in the mechanics at all, so they're fearless with their ideas, they're straightforward with their feedback, they're not critical (or at least I don't take their feedback as critical at this point in the story development) etc. Although truthfully the writer friends who I would go to with this sort of thing are good friends and I have a high level of trust with them, so I don't worry much about feeling overly critiqued. On the flip side, there are writer friends who I wouldn't go to with a story in early development because I know they wouldn't be able to avoid critiquing me and that would take the wind out of my sails, if that makes any sense.
Either way, I'd suggest you might need to do one of two things - either consider the early drafting a "brainstorming" time when you are open to feedback of all kinds (and develop a thick skin about the feedback so that you don't get deflated by the feedback) or just plow through until you have a reasonable first draft that you think you can work with. And then either polish it, or send it to a small group of people for feedback. Again, developing a thick skin about the feedback and/or cultivating the right kinds of "early readers" (ones who you trust to give you their honest feedback in a way that doesn't hurt your feelings or make you feel worthless.)