Writers rarely think about feedback and appraisal while they’re writing.
The story always takes precedence. But there will come a point, however, when the novel or short story is finally finished – finished in the writer’s eyes – that the work should be appraised.
Feedback is such an important tool for writers, and not nearly exploited enough. The idea is that a selective range of people – fellow writers perhaps, and ordinary folk – read your work and provide you with constructive feedback.
This obviously means opening yourself to criticism, however is it important to point out that it is useless becoming a writer unless you can’t take criticism. As a writer, the very work you produce becomes a part of the public domain, so by the very act of publishing a story, you are and can be the subject of criticism. You cannot avoid it, and the quicker you become accustomed to it, the better it will be to deal with.
Why get people to read your work?
Even if we hate the idea, the purpose of letting others read our stories is multifunctional – it helps us to understand our writing, it helps us to understand errors, and over time it helps us improve.
Critique from those who read your work is an important writing process in also understanding your level of skill, your writing limitations and the need for development in weak areas, because whatever you have missed, no matter how good an editor you are, the reader will inevitably notice.
Think of the feedback as market research. Large companies will regularly carry out market research to see if members of the public like their new products, their branding, their tastes etc. Public opinion is very important here; it gives the company an idea if their product works or wither it needs improvement.
Nobody likes criticism, but it is a necessary evil where writing is concerned. Not everyone who reads your story will like it – that is a logical given – but the people you choose should offer constructive and subjective criticism, the kind that helps rather than harms. We all know that harmful criticism can cause untold problems for writers, so it is important to choose with care a reading peer group who can be objective.
Who do I choose to read my work?
1. Writing groups can provide plenty of guidance and support and constructive appraisal.
2. Friends are better than family, simply because there is a better chance of them being objective. Mom or Dad or Auntie Jean will tell you that your novel is wonderful, even if it isn’t.
3. Some writers choose professional critique services, but that all depends on cost.
4. It’s possible that a tutor or fellow writing professional might also read your work and offer valuable feedback.
By sharing their work with others and by listening to their feedback and critique, writers who are willing to learn will have an instant advantage over those who don’t share.
Advantages of appraisal:
· Mistakes that you otherwise missed are spotted – grammatical or otherwise.
· Plot flaws that you thought were tight might be spotted. This is common because writers become so close to the work that they don’t always see mistakes.
· It gives you an idea about the strength of your writing – the person reading the work will tell you if there is too much waffle or too little description etc.
· It gives you an idea of whether the story is actually any good – does it stand up to scrutiny? Does the reader actually like it or loathe it?
· Most importantly, it’s a way of measuring how well you handle criticism.
The universal reaction is usually ‘they don’t know what they’re talking about, they’re not writers. My story is brilliant!’ It might be brilliant in the eyes of the writer, but not always brilliant for the reader. Writers should understand that a reader’s opinion matters.
Without feedback of this nature, the major story you are working on will never be truly finished. Even some seasoned writers send out their work for appraisal. They will know if something works, or if it doesn’t, and they will have the humility to do what is necessary to correct it and make it better, without throwing all their toys out of the pram and slinking into a cave to sulk.
Once some of the problems have been identified, fixed and double checked, then a story or MSS will be ready for an agent or publisher’s scrutiny.
If a writer can get over the initial reaction of being criticised, then they will find this process invaluable.
If you can’t handle criticism, then there’s no point being a writer.
Next week: The title is vital