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The Value of Feedback

My agent, the wonderful Lucienne Diver -- varkat  -- got back to me today with comments on the first 100 pages of my new work in progress.  Her comments were pointed, candid, and unbelievably helpful.  I've spent much of the day reworking the first six chapters of the book and though I'm not done yet, I'm already convinced that her criticisms and the changes I've made in response to them, have improved the book immeasurably.

Writing is often called a lonely endeavor, and much of the time it is.  I usually do much of my work in isolation, seeking comments and editorial guidance at the end of a draft which has been written over four or five or six months.  But occasionally I reach out.  A couple of weeks ago I got my friend Faith Hunter -- faithhunter  -- to read my opening paragraphs.  Her comments were of great help to me.  And today I've benefitted from Lucienne's insights and generosity.  I'm lucky to have such good people on my side.

Writing doesn't have to be done in a vacuum.  Give your work to friends or family members who you trust -- and by trust I mean two things:  You know they'll read your work and comment on it without being cruel, but you also know that they'll give you honest criticism, that they won't spare your feelings by misleading you.  Learn from these people.  When they tell you there are problems with your work, consider their insights.  In the end you might disagree with them -- that's fine.  But listen to their critiques.  And, equally important, when they tell you that you're good, that your book is worth reading, believe this as well.  Sometimes that's the harder challenge.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 7th, 2009 02:45 am (UTC)
Now I want to write a story about a writer in a vacuum. Small guy. Very dusty. Lots of dead bugs and spare change.

Jan. 7th, 2009 03:43 am (UTC)
And you crack me up! I miss you. You'll be at Mary's shindig, yes?
Jan. 7th, 2009 02:05 pm (UTC)
But of course! And I've been remiss in shamelessly inviting myself to your house as well. We should seek to remedy that this year.
Jan. 7th, 2009 04:22 pm (UTC)
Yes, we should!
Jan. 7th, 2009 03:27 am (UTC)
But! But! BUT!!!

You're writing could be tainted! You should NEVER! EVER! EVER! Change your words to please others! You sully Your ARTE by even thinking such things!

Jan. 7th, 2009 03:45 am (UTC)
I think I'm perfectly capable of tainting my writing without the help of others. I am, after all, a professional....

Thanks for the comment, Michael. I hope you're well.
Jan. 7th, 2009 03:53 am (UTC)
Is this the part where I ask "What profession?"?

Slush reading either makes me silly or snarly... guess which you got?
Jan. 7th, 2009 02:34 pm (UTC)
>I think I'm perfectly capable of tainting my writing without the help of others.

Oh, this made me laugh. Yeah. I'm so there.
Jan. 7th, 2009 09:18 am (UTC)
good advice
Jan. 7th, 2009 04:16 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Mark.
Jan. 7th, 2009 02:33 pm (UTC)
I so agree with you. I find that the input of friends is so valuable...try as I might I just can't consider things from every point of view while I'm writing. As you say, one has to use judgment, and sometimes the comments of others must just be dismissed, but many times they are so helpful. I figure if I can rewrite a scene to make it clear to a particular friend, that's X numbers of readers who might make the same assumption who will now find the scene more accessable.
Jan. 7th, 2009 04:26 pm (UTC)
You raise a great point, Jagi. Clearly we can't sample every reader, nor would we want to. And we also can't take every peice of criticism as gospel, even from our most trusted readers. As writers, we remain our own best critics. Part of this process is learning what pieces of advice to take and which ones to ignore.
Jan. 7th, 2009 05:01 pm (UTC)
Amen! I have my husband on the evening "gut check", and a friend of mine on chapter edit duty as I write. When it's not a busy, crazy holiday season, I get prompt feedback so I can rip stuff up early if I need to. This is so helpful.

And you're totally right. The hardest advice to believe is, "You don't suck. This is great."
Jan. 7th, 2009 07:42 pm (UTC)
Yes, helpful feedback is simply invaluable to a writer. Thanks for the comment, Emmy.
Jan. 7th, 2009 06:51 pm (UTC)
Aw shucks! It helps that you're so awesome to begin with. Makes my job a breeze.
Jan. 7th, 2009 07:41 pm (UTC)
--Blushing-- I love my agent....
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )


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