Monday, November 5, 2012

Integrating Feedback into the Writing Process

Integrating Feedback into the Writing Process

Guest Post By Laura Bickle

Writing for oneself is a completely different animal than writing for other people. When writing for oneself, there's a freedom to explore any idea or format that one likes. There's freedom to make errors. With an audience of one, there's very little pressure to conform to the ideas of others. There are no rules.

Writing for others is different. When developing an idea or manuscript for sale, there's a certain amount of external input needed. Input comes in many forms: from beta readers, critique groups, agents, and editors. External input is invaluable: as a writer, I'm often blind to flaws and blatant errors in my own work. I can read the same sentence over and over and not see a mistake in logic that another will readily see.

But too much feedback can also be a bad thing. Each reader approaches a manuscript differently, has different tastes and desires. One reader may adore a chapter while the next may hate it. And if I've solicited feedback from many sources, that feedback can sometimes conflict. I feel that I have to address every issue raised...even when there is no way to incorporate everyone's opinion. I can sometimes fall into analysis paralysis, and never find my way out of the revision forest. The old saying about too many cooks spoiling the broth definitely comes into play.

I think that there's a balance between using our internal compasses and soliciting external feedback. To be certain, some feedback is vital and necessary. It produces a more sound work. And some of it - particularly editorial suggestions - are not optional.

But there must be limits. Writers must remember that not every book is for every reader. And creating a work that encompasses all possible feedback is frankly impossible. Over-critiquing a manuscript can sometimes be harmful...a writer can lose track of the original inspiration and voice. Being in a state of constant revision can result in disjointed, disconnected parts. The flow can get lost. When I read manuscripts for others, I can often tell when plot threads were snipped and moved around over and over, because threads are dangling.

Sometimes, it's helpful for me just to set a manuscript aside for a while. Let it percolate. Read it some months later with a fresh eye. Sometimes, the project will not see the light of day. I take what I've learned and move on. Sometimes, I'll go forward with it after time has passed.

And I think that it's also helpful to develop a small network of folks who are able to act as critique partners. People who will be honest, who understand my genre. Folks who aren't afraid to scribble in the margins: "What the heck is this platypus doing here? And when did he learn to play the kazoo?"

I think that's valuable. I gather three or four sets of feedback, with the sources depending upon the project. With three or four recipes, I have a pretty good idea of how to improve my chicken soup. I still feel as if I have control of the project, and that the book isn't being written by committee.

With any artistic endeavor, you can't please everyone. And that's also true for writing groups and critique partners. The trick, I think, is to be able to filter feedback and integrate it into a work without losing track of what you set out to do. 
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Laura Bickle’s professional background is in criminal justice and library science, and when she’s not patrolling the stacks at the public library she’s dreaming up stories about the monsters under the stairs (she also writes contemporary fantasy novels under the name Alayna Williams). Laura lives in Ohio with her husband and a herd of mostly-reformed feral cats. THE HALLOWED ONES is her first young adult novel. Get the latest updates on her work at www.laurabickle.com

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MORE ON WRITING

The Gift of Feedback
Would You Make a Good Reviewer?
Writing Fiction: Character Believability and Conflict

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1 comment:

  1. One of the things I've gotten out of belonging to a couple of critique groups for a while is to know the person writing the comments, and to work on evaluating the comments and deciding if they're relevant or not.

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