Friday, 7 March 2008

Coffee break!

Good morning everybody! I hope you have a nice cup of something steamy on this slightly chilly morning. I'm still munching on my morning muesli, but will be brewing some of Illy's finest very soon.

Some of you may have read on my blog that I recently sent out my first three chapters to some friends - the first time I had let anyone read my WIP (and also the first time I'd let anyone read anything fictional I've written since the time I had to hand it in as homework). This has obviously been on my mind a lot, and thank you to everyone who left such supportive comments, they've really helped me through my jitters. I chose two friends who's opinions I trust and who read a lot. They also know a fair bit about books and the literary industry, so they seemed like the right people for me to ask. This got me thinking about my fellow Novel Racers. I'm assuming that most of you (especially the people who have already been published!) have let someone else see at least some of your work, but is this really the case? And how did you choose who was going to get the first glimpse?

I write in a pretty patchwork way, hopping about all over the place. This means that while I've got over 35,000 words on my laptop, it has taken me a long time to get to a point where all the first 15,000 are where they should be. While I'm aware that these may (actually, probably will) change a fair bit when I've got a full first draft and can look back on the beginning knowing how it all ends, I wanted to get someone's opinion fairly early on. This was partly to help me identify any problems that I might have missed from being too close to it, but also to see if anybody other than me would like Phoebe's story, and the way that I'm telling it. Is this a common approach? Or do you prefer to wait until the whole thing is complete before handing it over to someone to read?

Once somebody else has read your work, there is also the question of what they think about it. Feedback comes in all shapes and sizes, and some can be more helpful than others. One of my reviewers called briefly as soon as he'd finished reading to say he liked it, but we haven't managed to talk again to discuss anything in detail. My other reviewer sent me a long email with all her thoughts, and even gave me some advice about which bits agents might like and which bits they might be less keen on. She raised some interesting points, and when I move forward with her feedback in mind I think it's going to really help my writing. This may not always be the case, so do you have any advice for how to deal with feedback that you're not sure is helpful? Has this ever happened to you?


K.Imaginelli said...

Great topic! Every writing guide I've ever read says never to show your early drafts to family members or partners. However, I've found ignoring that "rule" to be extremely helpful. For both of my novels, I read each chunk aloud to my husband right after writing it. (which may explain why my novels are so long & episodic, which'll get fixed in revision). The husband is the only one I'll even discuss the novel's plot and characters with while I'm writing. As much as I'd like him to pat me on the head and say "good job," he doesn't let me get away with anything and is always pointing out "no guy would ever say that," which I think has helped me create less cliched characters. He's also great with the plot development, helping me to think outside of the formulaic narratives I know so well from books and movies. When I finish typing up all these notebooks, I plan to let a friend read chunk's of the novel as I revise.

Rowan Coleman said...

I think I've said before I never, never show anything I've written to anybody but my agent and my editors and before i was published I only showed it to my agent because I completely trust her judgement. Feedback is great, constructive crits are great. Often when you are writing it is as if you are standing with your nose against a huge impressionist painting and all you can see is the tiny brush marks. YOu need someone to help you stand back and see the big picutre, make sense of the ideas and create a coherent form. However while it is important to be able to filtre good critism verus unhelpful. The thing to do, I think, is to keep an open mind, consider opinions impartially, don't get emotional and be strong about your ideas and your vision.

Graeme K Talboys said...

I have always shown my work to family, friends, or anyone else I can corner. With my non-fiction, I have always gone to people who I consider experts on the subject and they have always been happy to help with factual content, organisation of text, and so on. With my fiction... I used to be more guarded, but still showed it to one or two people and always got great feedback, sometimes on unexpected things. My current WIP is different. As I finish a chapter, I post on several Open University forum where it is read by about 90 people on a regular basis (well as regularly as I post). One or two send me detailed feedback on things they don't understand, typos, everything. Most just keep reading which suggests they are interested in the story and which I find extremely comforting, particularly as it is not a straightforward narrative tale.

As to dealing with feedback, I go by the rule that if more than three people have a problem with the same thing, it needs fixing. Otherwise, leave it (but make a note). People will always have their own views of your work, it is only when they all start homing in on the same things that you need to think about whether something needs to be done. And even then, it doesn't always follow - especially if they are seeing it in installments. They may have picked up on something that gets resolved later in the text but which is best left as a puzzle or problem for the reader. Also, if you feel something is as it should be and feel you can argue for leaving it as it is, then leave it as it is. It is your work, after all.

NoviceNovelist said...

I have shared fiction work with writer friends, my writing group, fellow students on my MA course and a couple of 'ideal' readers who aren't writers. I tend to also follow Graeme's thought that if more than a couple of people pinpoint the same thing then it needs some attention.

One of the best things I have learnt (and it's not always easy) is having the confidence to stick to my own vision. I listen when people share their thoughts and I will ponder them if they hit a spot but don't always follow them.

I think it's important to bear in mind that when people only see a fraction of a novel in progress it is often hard for them to get the big picture and if you start muddling with too many small things when you haven't finished-you may never finish.

Good topic - tricky to know how to deal with it. I am becoming a big fan of having faith and going on gut instinct. I have had conflciting views from people I trust with a major issue in my first novel - it has led to several months of ripping my hair out - I've only just calmed down to the point where I can see that ultimately I have to trust myself - scary!!!

Caroline said...

I'm with Rowan on this. I now only show my work to my publisher, editor and I have one trusted reader/writer who is spot on, always. I can see the gain from having an agent to talk through your work with.

I did an MA and at first tried to consider all feedback, but much of it contradicted other feedback - reading habits are so influenced by taste. I learned to step back, to consider, but also to dismiss. If 2 people say the same thing, then I reconsider.

It's so hard letting go and stepping back. I am fighting negative voices at the moment ... but I am my worst critic!


Cal said...

Great topic. No one other than Nice Mr Agent has seen the whole of novel #1 but members of my online writing group have seen the first three chapters. Basically I just wanted to see if the first three chapters grabbed them enough to keep reading (luckily they did). I haven't posted any more, partly because I'm starting to trust my own judgement and partly because it would take forever to post up each chapter and then have the group critique it.

How do I deal with the feedback? As someone else said if lots of people point something out I pay attention. If one person says "I didn't find the joke funny" and someone else does I just shrug my shoulders and don't change it. Sometimes you just have to trust your own judgement and if you change everything everyone comments on your novel would turn into a bit of a hotch potch (in my opinion).

When I start on novel #2 again I'll probably take a similar approach and post the first 3 chapters again. It's useful just to know you're going in the right direction. Whether that approach will change if/when I get an agent I don't know. Only a few of the published writers on my writing community post their work up for critique. Most of the 'big names' don't although they might critique someone else's work occasionally.

Juliette M said...

I have one trusted reader, one trusted writer/reader, and one trusted feminist ;) to kick me in the butt when needs be (known as The Witches of Eeepwick). The first gives massively detailed feedback by word of mouth while I scribble down notes; they are usually really helpful and the points she makes are things I should have noticed. The second and third tend to email their feedback, and it is shorter.

Other than that, I dont really show my work to many people, as I dont have an editor or agent yet. I don't post work on writing websites for critique, although I have occasionally done the 'first page challenge' or 'first paragraph'.

Fiona said...

I found helpful and fellow bloggers have looked at my first three chapters but I did shell out £40 to have the chapters assesed by an editor and think it was money well spent. She was pretty harsh but, almost, everything she said made sense.

JJ said...

Well, I've only just started being brave enough to show anyone else my work. At Christmas on my Skyros course, I gave everything I'd written for the novel to Julia Bell. I knew I'd got problems, I knew I didn't understand what I was meant to be doing and she was great. Pinpointed the things that would help to put it right, gave me some positives so I didn't want to hang myself. But it's tough, and I don't like it. I'm still afraid that everyone will think I'm hilarious to even try.

Great topic.

Kirsty said...

I'm not a novel racer, so I hope it's ok for me to comment!(I'm a total lurker!)
Just wanted to say that this is a great topic.
I used to show my WIP to friends and family. Whenever they were enthusiastic, I'd get all excited and tell them the whole plot-line, only to find that I no longer felt as buoyed up about writing the story because I'd already told it!
Since then I've kept the contents of my novel secret. That little bubble in my belly of having a story that is yet to be revealed, ends up spurring me on.

Anonymous said...

I can fully understand why some writers restrict the number of their proof readers, reviewers and critics. Opinions can be very subjective and things can get personal, upsetting and discouraging unless you're careful. Once bitten, twice shy, perhaps? I'm sure many of us just have a select few trusted readers for these reasons.

Taking a step back from this, the scientist in me says that this is a risky practise! By filtering our selection of readers, we are throwing away potentially useful information and feedback. A better practise would be to collect feedback from as many sources as possible. Then you have to be very patient, calm, objective and determined to use all of the available information to work out which issues need resolving. Keeping track of the issues is also essential, even if it's just as simple as a "to do" list.

Completed work versus early feedback? Well, my opinion is that it depends on what kind of feedback you're looking for. If you just want feedback on low-level things such as grammar, style, voice etc. then the earlier the better. However, some of the higher-level aspects such as plot consistency, character development and the like really need the story to be reviewed in its completeness.

Good topic. More fuel for my forthcoming Writing Methodology series...

Leatherdykeuk said...

I have a private read filter on my livejournal blog where I post everything I write. A few trusted people read what they wish and comment.

Sometimes negative comments make me rethink parts of the book; at others I shrug and explain they've missed the point.

liz fenwick said...

Great topic and something that has been on my mind lately as I reworking a Cornish House. When I began the rwrie I turned to a the crit I had from a trail with a cp. I found that her comments were hugely useful as this rewrite stage. When I received them I wasn't ready to use the input.

I think as a pre-published writer I need feedback from properly informed people. Sometimes that means paying for it via the likes of Hilary Johnson or Caroline Upcher (both excellant for unbiased critique) and now I am learning to work with a trusted cp. As Rowan said you can be too close to the work to see the big picture.

A word of caution though - in the end so many people read August Rock (H. Johnson, Caroline Upcher x2, RNA NWS x2 plus trusted friend)and I rewrote so many times that I think it has lost its sparkle
although it is technically a better work then when I started.

liz fenwick said...

oh, I forgot to say that I am recklessly through the my writing open to the world through the Dickens Challenge on my blog. It is unnerving but totally freeing as I am writing in a genre that I am not trying to publish in and in first person which I haven't used since uni.

Rachel is also doing this and hers is brilliant :-)

ChrisH said...

Late again due to waving off the Outlaws! (My lips are sealed.)

I'm very fortunate to live with Mr Pedant who goes through my completed scripts. I wait until I have a finished piece because it's too easy for me to 'talk out' my ideas and lose the spark. Then it's over to Tom for red penning not so much for correction but as a critical eye, for picking up typos and for pointing out passages which are unclear and where the reader might put the book down and not pick it up again. For professional criticism I would recommend Hilarly Johnson.

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

I wrote the first draft of my novel as a serial on my blog, so it was (and still is) open to the world. A bit like the one Liz is doing, only not a challenge from anywhere other than myself. But, although some of my readers are also writers, there was nothing like the Novel Racers around then (or not as far as I knew) and hardly any of my real-life friends read my blog. I didn't show any of my real-life critters (that's a BE Sanderson term from last time we talked about this, if I remember rightly!) until I'd completely finished the second draft. I consider all feedback carefully, act on whatever seems good and discard the rest.

Helen Shearer said...

I have a friend with the same sense of humour that I have so she gets to read a fair amount of what I write. My dad is a great audience as well. I showed several chapters to a writing group a year ago and all but one person liked it. We had one wet blanket in the group who wrote very dark, woe-is-me stuff and she said that she was not amused. I knew immediately that I was on the right track. No one has read the whole thing yet I just let them read bits and pieces to make sure that the voice is right and to see if they find it funny. When I have finished it, my brother will get it first. His grammar is flawless and he likes a good laugh. And I, too, employ three strikes and it's out rule. If three people don't get it, you're probably missing the boat.

Lane said...

Great topic. Thanks LP.
I have no qualms about showing short stories to anyone. However the novel is not in a fit state to be shown to anyone yet. When the time comes I think .... and as this is all new to me, I'll send it out (ha!) initially without showing it to anyone. I tend to agree with Kirsty. If I asked for feedback from people whether it be family, friends, forums the doubts would set in and I'd start tweaking and mangling before it even had a chance. Once the m/s comes ricocheting back a few times - then will be the time to call in the troops and ask for feedback.

Debs said...

Great post. Like Liz I've sent work to Hilary Johnson and have received detailed reports back which certainly do help with the re-writing.

I have two friends who have both read my work and I've taken their comments on board and found that usually they've been right and have pointed out something obvious that didn't work or that I'd missed.

I've also posted on for reviews, which have also been most useful.

Cathy said...

Late again!

I have shown short fiction and poems to fellow students on my OU writing courses. I'm not sure what I will do with the novel when it gets far enough...I think I will need to identify one or two readers I absolutely trust, but as it is my first novel I might be tempted to pay a literary agency to look at it too.

wordtryst said...

I subscribe to the "closed door" method of writing the first draft: complete the story first then open the door and let others in. They can influence the second and later drafts but for the first, it's just me and the characters in my head slugging it out. Fixing the problems based on feedback can come later. As a matter of fact, I think it should come later.

The input is bound to be subjective; some of it may be useful, but some won't be. And you don't want to try to write to someone's prescription, do you? I think your friend's long e-mail with her thoughts and advice on what agents might like or not can only harm your process. Is your friend an agent?

The first person to read my work was a writer friend who stayed over at my apartment for a few days and demanded to read the manuscript. I demurred but he won out and I was so glad! His comments helped not only to polish my story, but also to give me some much needed confidence in my work.

And speaking of that first manuscript, today I saw my debut novel (yes, that same one my friend twisted my arm into letting him read) in a bookstore on the net for the first time - and it's not even being released until September! Needless to say, I'm overjoyed. Hey, it's my first time, so pardon my excessive enthusiasm!

SpiralSkies said...

I put the first few chapters of my novel on my blog but, other than that, no one has read much of it yet.

Editing starts in earnest in a week or so and I'm hoping that the second draft will be decent enough to be critiqued. I've actually joined the Romantic Novelists Association which gives members of the New Writers Scheme a proper critique which will be scary but necessary. I know Liz F did this too which prompted me to do the same.

Wordtryst - How completely exciting - you must be completely beside yourself. Bloomin well done!

A. Writer said...

Sorry I'm late. I let some of my work colleagues read the first draft of INNTW before I took writing seriously. It was just a bit of fun then and it was after they told me that they liked it that I thought I could try to be a bit more serious about my writing.

I've currently got extracts on my website for people to read and give feedback on. They are password protected so I can keep a close eye on whoever reads them.

Feedback is hit and miss. Even feedback given with all the right intentions to improve my WIP can make me feel so stupid that I want to give up writing (daft I know)! I tend to remember the negative and forget the good which is pants.

Leigh said...

I show things to husband, father, and writerly friend. Husband, because he has a right to know why I haven't spoken to him for a week. Father because he's learned, and I am interested in what he has to say. And writerly friend, because she asks all the awkward questions.

Writerly friend, the most distant of my readers, is definitely the most objective. Husband probably wouldn't dare to criticise (I could be wrong here), father couldn't bear to criticise, but writerly friend has nothing to lose (except someone to correct her grammar, and look after her kids, and feed her tea/lunch/chocolate when she's miserable).

All advice (if asked for) has to be listened to, doesn't it? But none of it actually needs to be acted upon if I don't like it. That being said, I am finally incorporating some changes that writerly friend suggested over a year ago...

I am learning that, with time, good advice/bad advice/unwanted advice all settle to their proper places in the great pond of significance - it just takes a while to happen. I try not to worry about it in the meantime...

B.E. Sanderson said...

Sorry to come to the party so late. I don't know where my head is at these days.

With me, no one gets to see my first drafts. I have a critique partner and she usually doesn't see my writing until I've edited it so much I think it glows with perfection (which means I'm at a point where I can no longer be objective). My beta readers get a copy about the same time as my CP. The only person who gets to read any of my work before it glows is my daughter, but I use my writing as a tool for English class. The early pages can be perfect for showing her what NOT to do. ;o)

Most of the feedback I've gotten has been helpful, but there are always times when it's not. I just take the advice I can use and throw the rest out. One thing that almost always is a red-flag for bad advice for me is when a reader uses a blanket statement and applies it to my work. "Never start a sentence with a conjunction" kind of stuff. There are rarely 'never' or 'always' rules that apply to everything.

KeVin K. said...

I like Rowan's impressionist painting analogy. However, I only show my unpublished works to editors and then only because the insist on reading the ms before buying it.

(I have been trying to talk myself into first readers for my mystery because it's a completely new genre for me and I'm not sure I'm getting the clue planting and such right, but every time I agree with myself that critique would be useful I have these terrible muscle spasms and bang my head on my desk.)