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Feedback is a writer’s best friend

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

I am at the stage of my writing where I want my work to be critiqued. Honestly.

I am currently looking for readers who sit outside the circle of my family and friends; potential beta readers who can provide authentic and truthful feedback about my writing. The good, the bad and the ugly.

Although it is lovely to hear positive remarks, I know that encouraging comments hold more weight and are more powerful when your reader has proven that they can provide genuine and constructive feedback. Readers who can confidently highlight clumsy and pedestrian sentences, who let you know when they don’t get what is written, can provide insightful thoughts on a character’s action, or let you know if there is incorrect contextual detail are precious to the writer's process. A pickup on spelling and tense doesn’t go astray either.

I understand that it is hard for people who love and care for you to be brutally honest. My job as the writer is to help establish and build trust between us so that feedback is delivered in an honest way. To gently remind them that empty and soft feedback isn’t helpful.

Except for my husband. After being married for 26 years he is not afraid to tell me when something in my writing is not working. This additional role in our relationship has taken a few years to develop. I am not going to say it was easy. There were times when I pouted and resisted but his wise and kind words always settled me. ‘You don’t want to send work out that’s not ready,’ he would remind me. He was right.

He is a prolific reader and knows what works in fiction and what doesn’t. He reads a broad range of genres and recognises a good story when he reads one. He has become my initial test reader for all my early drafts. I trust his judgement. When he says it’s good, I know it’s good. How? Because he tells me straight up when it’s horrid.

Joining a writing group is one way to gain feedback and support as a writer. Children's book author, Allison Tait’s post, ‘Should I join a writer’s group?’ talks about how you need a group of people who will support you and not nit-pick your work to bits. I agree. When you have an early draft, the feedback needs to focus on the characters, POV, voice and structure. Dealing with grammar and spelling comes later. I tell my students that drafts are meant to be messy. We all know that getting it down is our first priority as writers. You cannot edit the beginning if you don’t have an end.

I have started a writing group for women writers here in Brisbane. I discovered that there weren't any writing groups for this niche of writers already established. The membership is growing nicely which proves that I am not the only one looking for support as a writer in this genre.

If you are also looking for a writing group, there are a number of groups through Meetups, your local library, Facebook and writing associations. It’s about finding a group that suits your needs as a writer.

You can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page. Jodi Picoult

On the flip side, I did come across a post by Jane Friedman, where she shares the ‘4 hidden dangers of a writing group.’ She talks about the pitfalls when nobody tells the truth. Another important point Jane raises is that ‘struggling writers are not the best judges as struggling writers’. Although I agree on all the points Jane highlights in her article, I still feel that another perspective on your work can still be helpful. If anything, it builds our confidence as writers to share our work. That as a group of readers we can help each other in some way. Writers are usually life-long learners, who are developing their craft as they write. It’s all about honest discovery; accepting what we don’t know and finding answers and solutions collectively.

One final point. Accepting feedback on your work builds resilience. Recently I heard an author on the, So You Want To Be A Writer podcast say that getting your work out there, accepting feedback and getting rejections helps train you for the harsh reality of the publishing industry. This, I feel is just as important as writing.

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