Writing and Rambling

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Feedback Fun (Pt 2)

Posted by Dave on May 16, 2010

Okay, I’m back, with apologies to you, the reader. 

For the last few weeks, I’ve been elbow-deep in editing, polishing up the query letter, and putting together a list of agents.  Final count for Jaben’s Rift is 109,137 words, a drop of 16,158 words, or almost 13%.  Some of it hurt, but I think JR is better for it. I did end up dropping the prologue that I posted in my last entry.  Although I liked it, it really wasn’t serving a purpose that I couldn’t accomplish in the main text of the book.  Just another example of “killing the darlings” (see the April 4th post).  Now the book jumps right into Jason’s dilemma from the get go.  We’ll see how that works out.

But now, the editing is done, and the initial volley of queries has been fired off.  Two have already come back as rejections, but c’est la vie, right?  Most agents will reject over ninety percent of what is sent to them.  I just appreciate the prompt response from the agents, even if it was a rejection.  Some never reply at all if they don’t like your work, so you hang in limbo, sometimes for weeks.  Hopefully, I’ll land in that lucky ten percent before I go through my whole list.  If not, maybe I’ll do better on the next one.  Either way, I’m not going to stop writing.

Now, back to the feedback thing.  In part one, I addressed the writer’s side of feedback.  Now I’d like to look at the reviewer’s side. 

The most difficult material to review honestly is that of a friend or family member.  There’s no problem if the writing is truly good, but what if it’s not?  How do you tell someone you care about that their material isn’t the best you’ve ever read?  On the one hand, you want to help them improve and reach their goals, but on the other hand, what if your honesty hurts their feelings?  Only you know how they will respond to complete honesty.  If you don’t think they’ll appreciate total candor, and they insist you tell them what you think of their stuff, let me offer this.  Find something, anything, that you do like about the material and emphasize that, while trying to minimize critical comments.  They’ll hear enough of those from other sources.  Also, even if you think you’re the next Jeff Foxworthy or Sinbad, don’t make jokes about your friend’s or relative’s writing ambitions, especially when you’re both with other people, even if you are just kidding around with them.  They may laugh with you, but only they know how important their writing is to them.  Innocent jokes can sometimes hurt worse than blunt honesty.

Now, if you’re a writer, let me gently suggest that you not ask relatives or friends to review your work unless you are completely willing to accept constructive criticism without taking it personally or letting it affect your relationships.  Editors, agents, and online or in-person critique groups will give you the feedback you need to improve your work, and you can get mad at them if you want without jeopardizing friendships or family relations.  And as I mentioned in the first part of Feedback Fun, the feedback you get from family or friends, unless they’re also in the writing biz, may not be the most accurate or insightful, even if they’re really trying to help. 

Although we all love our own writing, we’re hardly the best judges of whether or not it’s publishable, and the people who care about us don’t really want to tell us our material needs some work (and sometimes that’s being polite).  Do you really want to put people you care about in the uncomfortable position of having to break that news to you in case it’s not good enough yet?  And be honest with yourself.  How will you feel if your significant other tells you your story isn’t that good?  Hmm?  Unless you’re sure you’d be okay with it, hold off and let them have some of the first copies once it’s published.  Then you can joke about your less-than-perfect first drafts over a congratulatory toast.

Enough for today.  Have a good one.

 There are three kinds of people in the world: Those who can do math, and those who can’t.


3 Responses to “Feedback Fun (Pt 2)”

  1. jasi said

    Hi Dave,

    Since I was a beta reader for a looong time through a writing co-op, I have seen my share of unpublishable m/s. It never does any good for anyone to hear that they do not have talent, and yet, so many people think this is exactly what the poor first time novelist wants to know when they hand over their novel/short story! Yikes! I would never lie to someone about their m/s, but I would also never try to dissuade *any* one from being creative. So, your story might never get published by Tor, so what? You love creating chars and situations and turning them loose and, then, forcing your loved ones to read it. This is joy. This is what writing should be about. Brilliance comes from being genuinely happy and in the moment while you are creating.

    Great post!

    • Dave said

      I don’t think it’s so much about telling someone they don’t have any talent as it is the difficulty accepting the “it needs some work” from a friend or family member. Some writers take constructive criticism very personally and even get angry when someone tells them their ms could use some tweaking. A person like that, hearing that type of review from a friend or family member might take it even harder.
      You and I know that we can’t take attacks on our writing ability personally. Donald Maass said if a reviewer focuses on your writing ability instead of what you’ve written, ignore them. After all, an editor once told Kipling “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” Fortunately, Mr. Kipling didn’t listen to him.
      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Tina said

    Dave, great job doing the tough job of editing and sending out the first round of queries! It’s been years since I pursued writing, but I remember receiving my first query with so much enthusiasm, my husband thought I had gotten an acceptance letter! I was just so happy because receiving a response meant I had finished and submitted a piece–I was a bona fide writer! Of course, I know you will persevere and not only be a writer, but one day a PUBLISHED writer! Keep writing, keep believing, and keep inspiring the rest of us!

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