We wanted to start the week with more insight from the fantastic authoright team - how to get the most out of that vital editing process.
Ernest Hemingway once proclaimed that “all first drafts are s*!#”. Not even the greatest of writers can expect to produce a masterpiece in one attempt: rewriting is simply an essential part of creating a book to be proud of. In order to redraft your work effectively, you’ll need some feedback to guide you. That’s why a community like authonomy is such a huge support. So here’s what to look for when you’re looking for feedback.
The most important consideration when it comes to getting someone to give their opinion on your writing is who to ask. Rule Number One: don’t ask friends and family. You might have a close friend who won’t pull their punches when it comes to critiquing your writing, but for the most part, loved ones don’t exactly relish being given such a huge responsibility and can balk at having to play such a crucial role. Most also don’t feel qualified to advise and will be terrified of telling you the wrong thing. Usually those close to you will withhold their harshest comments, thinking they’re doing you a favour by being encouraging. They may also stray into the jealousy department, and their feedback may be coloured by the fact that they’re just a little bit resentful that you’ve managed to write an entire book by yourself. It’s a huge achievement in itself and even those who appear to be - and should be - supportive, may not actually be naturally interested or genuinely pleased by your creative efforts. Whenever a good friend of mine asked his mother to read the first draft of his novel she would immediately start droning on about the marvels of her own writing. She wasn’t even working on a book, she was just being competitive! You want to look for four key qualities in the person charged with reviewing your work; distance, time, experience and respect. The best kind of person to ask for feedback is someone who is well-read, who has plenty of time to devote to the task, who knows you formally but not intimately and who you respect intellectually. Someone with the time and inclination to take your book seriously and earnestly and who might even have some relevant experience in providing feedback. And someone who is able to put their own ego to one side really helps.
US author Allison Winn Scotch discusses this issue on her blog, giving advice about when a writer should ask someone to review their work. She notes that authors differ in their method, with some carefully planning ahead while others just write down whatever comes to mind and make sense of it later. If you belong to the latter category then it may be worth waiting until you have something fairly complete before showing it to anyone; you’re asking someone to spend a significant amount of time looking at your work, they won’t appreciate having to decode a series of half-baked ramblings. Authors who write more carefully might get halfway through a draft and worry that the book’s heading in the wrong direction. In this case, it could be useful to get some feedback before the first draft is complete; you might find inspiration if you’ve run out of ideas or – if it’s well-received – you’ll be given the confidence to carry on till the very last page.
Fellow writers can also be good people to give you feedback as they’re familiar with the writing process and will expect you to return the favour, making them more likely to offer substantial and thorough feedback, which is one of authonomy’s strengths People you don’t know will always be your harshest critics but it’s important to take their feedback on the chin and use it constructively where relevant.
Wherever you go for feedback, make sure it’s from more than one source. Best-selling Australian author Max Barry warns us of the dangers of taking one person’s word as gospel: he showed a first draft to his agent who told him a novel should be about 90,000 words so he proceeded to ruthlessly cull 40,000 of them, the book went no further and it turned out the agent hadn't read more than a couple of pages! But while one person’s advice alone can unduly influence you, too many people will give you too much feedback to cope with and leave you feeling deflated. Balance is key, but by assembling a group of discerning readers who are all passionate about literature and who will each take a slightly different approach to the written word, you’ll ensure you receive rounded feedback, which will really stand you in good stead to revise and redraft your work and build for a better, brighter book.