Tag Archives: writers’ group

How to get free feedback from your editor friends/family

My colleagues will kill me. This is like taking pictures in the co-ed team locker room and putting them online.

Here’s the problem: everyone seems to want to write, everyone seems to think his or her personal story is fascinating, and everyone is realizing that self-publishing has perforated the Great Wall of Publishing. Yet most people don’t write very well, most personal stories are no more interesting than anyone else’s, and most people don’t want to do their own marketing.

What is it you want feedback on?

My whole story, damn it! No. Don’t ask your editor friends for that. I’ve gone into the reasons before, but in short, you put your friend in a position where s/he cannot win, and will invariably disappoint you and damage the relationship.

My writing ability. Okay. In that case, ask your friend if s/he will dissect a single paragraph for you as if you were a paying client, with commentary and corrections–with the proviso that it’s all you want, or will want. I think most would go that far.

My storytelling ability. No, can’t do, because that means reading the whole thing. Then I have to explain the difference between writing and storytelling, which are very different skills. Don’t believe me? Okay. How many wonderful oral storytellers do you know who couldn’t even write a decent marquee for Grocery Outlet?

My story/book concept. That’s doable. Offer to digest it in 300 words (not 301, not 299; show some discipline), and ask simply for an evaluation of the strength of the concept, and what it might lack/need.

My kid’s writing. Never, no, absolutely not, and do not ask unless you’re perfectly happy to impair the friendship. It’s the ultimate no-win situation for your friend, simply because you asked.

How to get published. Doable. Take your friend to lunch, saying that you’d like to pick his/her brain on the various publishing choices. Lunch is a fair bribe for that.

How to market a book. Please don’t ask unless you are willing to make effort beyond “self-publish it and hope for the world to discover my greatness.” If you are passionate about marketing, then yeah, ask away, but always remember this. If editors were any good at marketing, or enjoyed it, wouldn’t they be doing that?

Where to get all of the above without paying? I’ll just answer that here. You have to endure a writers’ group. Take time to find a good one, bearing in mind that you will be asked to read and comment on plenty of types of writing you may not enjoy. You don’t like screenplays? Too bad; one hand washes the other. Your ego is fragile? You’ll either get over that, or you’ll leave the group. You find other writers to be narcissistic, pretentious, addicted au bon mot, and conceited? You will just have to deal, because there are probably few “writers’ groups for writers who do not have the customary personality tendencies of writers.” Your best option may be online, where at least you don’t have to send any words you haven’t reviewed and massaged before you commit to them.

If this seems cold, do remember that it emanated from a good number of bad experiences, and from a sincere desire to be helpful in spite of those experiences. It would be unfortunate if one could not construe that as kind at heart, because the easy route was to say nothing at all.

Needy writer syndrome

This is not so much a condition as a phase most writers pass through.  It’s the phase where you are bugging anyone and everyone to read your sonnets, screenplay, novella, or whatever.  If you have matured somewhat in your writing, you may want honest critique.  If you have not matured in it at all, you just want them to tell you it’s great.  My own travels through this phase lasted longer than I am glad to report.

Unfortunately, most people don’t want to read it, and they really don’t want to give you honest feedback, in case it completely blows.  Take it from me:  if you give something to someone to read, and you don’t hear back, either they just kinda didn’t do it because they really just didn’t want to, or it was a terrible piece and they are afraid to tell you so.

If you were going to be really smart about it, you’d pick up a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing, digest and absorb its lessons, and then you wouldn’t benefit from this blog post.  However, you probably won’t buy and read that book.  In that case, what you need is a writers’ group–and I don’t say that very often, because I have had very little luck with those.

The benefit of the writers’ group is they are going to read your work and critique it.  Their critique may be fair or unfair, smart or dumb, but they will read it, and you will likely improve.  You’ll get past Needy Writer Syndrome faster because you won’t be after everyone to critique you, and that’s all to the good.

Writers’ groups

Always been on the fence about these.  I live in an area where interest in the written word is minimal, so there aren’t that many local writers and there are fewer capable ones.  At the same time, one can possibly gain from critique.  And if there aren’t that many of us, should we not at least be acquainted? Most of the time my answer is sort of ‘meh,’ but I realize that’s kind of a cop-out.  So I gave one a try tonight, brand new one, formed and organized by a very quiet young mother.

The organizer feels we should pass our material around for review online first.  While I can see the logic in exchanging critiqueable material offline and bringing one’s impressions to the group, it seems that if we are going to just do that, we could do this on Facebook and not bother worrying about a face-to-face meetup.  It also seems like the idea is to intersperse our comments into that, print it and bring it to talk about.  They are talking about a 5000-word limit, which would be about 15 pages.  I could end up expected to print 40 pages of other people’s stuff.  I am not sure I think that’s a good idea.  I am definitely not sure I’m willing to do that at all.

I have about talked myself into at least sending some material out and going through the motions for a second session, just to see if all is redeemed by some serious insight.  Or if my insight helps someone.  Or something else happens to make me think this is worth doing. One participant writes exclusively screenplays, in which I have less interest than even Harlequin romances.  The other two write young adult fiction, about which I know little and care rather less.  I don’t feel any camaraderie there, so there isn’t that draw.

What would make a good writers’ group? In my view, intelligent critique without soul destruction is the first step.  I personally have no problem having someone rip my work apart in intelligent fashion, but I keep hearing that a lot of people in writers’ groups think it’s like boot camp, where you have to break people down before they can be remolded–that brutality is a virtue.  I don’t think it is, and I think that’s a viewpoint of big-fish-small-pond hotshots.  I don’t like it and I don’t like them, by and large.  Fortunately, there aren’t any in this group or I’d just go somewhere else.

I guess we’ll see how it goes.