Writing Posts

Obtaining Feedback: A Query

In order to understand this post, I’m gonna need you to read this post. It’s by Chuck Wendig, who, if you’re familiar with his blog, always writes really awesome posts, told through colorful language, containing webs upon webs of wonderful tangents. If you don’t have time to read his entire post but what to know what I’m referencing in this post, just read his first bullet, titled 1. Fuck Your Critique Groups.

I read the entire post, most of which had me nodding. But it was that first bullet that really had me scratching my head and being genuinely perplexed. I mean, one, he admitted to not being a huge fan of Tolkien, so, you know…

Image result for uruk hai GIF

I’m just kidding, I was not that offended.

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Aside from that revelation, I was really intrigued by Wendig’s discussion. Of course, when he writes about writing advice, he always offers the caveat that tells you to not just assume his word is law because he wrote it or that it will work for you because it works for him, because everyone and their process and writing style are different, so the shit and the advice that works varies. That makes sense. He also warned us that most of the advice he was about to give was labeled “unconventional,” so it wasn’t guaranteed to be popular opinion or belief. Fair enough. But he brought up a particularly interesting point:

And that’s chiefly the problem with a lot of critique groups — they understandably comprise writers, not editors. Their opinions on work are driven from the question of, how would I write this? which is analogous to changing how you have sex because some other weirdo gets off on different peccadillos.

Just ignore that last half (even though it’s hilarious in his post). Reading that, it was sort of like a “duh” moment for me. In the past year and a half, I started actively searching for beta readers and becoming a beta reader for some people. I’ve had some pretty good experiences, but it also made me realize that a lot of the advice I give is based off my own writing style and my own preferences. Which isn’t necessarily always the right call, especially in someone else’s manuscript. Hell, half the time, it isn’t the right call in my own manuscript.

So that leaves me with a question. A query, if you will.

How do I improve my writing?

Say Wendig is onto something and a critique group, if you’re not lucky enough to be in an awesome one that shares your vision and understands your story like you do and is able to point out the weaker points, isn’t the best call. How do you improve your story, after you’ve edited it so many times you either think the entire thing is glorious or you think the entire thing is shit, and another pair of eyes is what you need? Go to a professional editor, sure. But what if you can’t afford that? Do you just do the best you can, query it and hope it’s good enough? Or do you create a group with writers you respect and hope the feedback you get is useful?

Say you go the latter route and join a group. You get a bunch of feedback. How do you avoid the feedback that derails you utterly and ruins what, if you hadn’t received that feedback, actually could have been a really amazing thing? How do you learn to sort through and, to be blunt and honest about it, judge the value of the feedback coming your way and determine its matches your vision of your story?

I’m not really sure what the answer to this is.

Hell, like Wendig has mentioned before, I’m not sure if there even is a one-size-fits-all answer. Once again, it is a case-by-case determination, which I realize, isn’t really helpful. What I have determined, however, is I need to–always–write stories that I enjoy. I want to love my work, even if that work goes against the trend or doesn’t fit into the market. I want it to always be mine and true to my heart, no matter who, if anyone, I go to for advice and feedback.

I’d really love to hear some ideas that spurt from this, either from my post here or Wendig’s post, linked above. How do you navigate the editing waters?


13 thoughts on “Obtaining Feedback: A Query”

      1. OKAY. I have a sort of two part idea for this. And it looks like a few others have already hit upon some of them, so I might be repeating a little bit.

        First off, I think Wendig’s article was a good reminder. I think we get too caught up in beta reading as the answer to fixing all the problems, and coupled with writer-doubt, we want to do things to make them happy.

        So I think it’s a needed reminder that it’s okay to be like ‘ehhhh nope I’m right.’ It’s YOUR writing. Also, someone mentioned below about a big sample size: THAT. I think it’s important to have a lot of voices BECAUSE you can look for themes. If a lot of people are confused by something, complaining about something, etc, then you probably have an issue.

        BUT. I think it was Neil Gaiman that said, if a reader complains how something, they’re right, but if they tell you how to fix it, they’re wrong.

        The input from beta readers is to give insight into how others perceive your story to see if you missed something, there’s a glaring error, did you evoke the right emotion, etc, etc, etc. If you haven’t, then it’s time to reassess. But reassess how YOU write it. What you do with the data and information is all you, you’re the writer. The reality is, everyone is complicated and is going to come at a story different based on their background. You need a big sample size to try to find a truth in all of that.

        Secondly! What I think is lacking in a lot of beta reading circles in clarity on what authors are looking for. It used to frustrate the crap out of me, I would ask Nevin to read over something, and he’d copyedit it, but not mention anything else. I would have to push him: did you like the characters? Was the story interesting? Hello?

        I’m trying to become a better critique partner by really reminding myself that some people have different styles and I HAVE to respect that. So far I haven’t really had a problem with style of who I’ve read for, but I try to think really hard about all of my comments and what place it’s coming from. I also try to be really clear and WHY I’m saying something. “I personally love xyz so I wanted to see more of this.” “I personally have a problem with xyz so I felt it could be handled better.” And I try to come at it from the way of asking questions and such, not giving answers.

        Okay, I’m turning into a long rant here. WHAT I’M TRYING TO SAY. Is that I think coming at a critique partner or group, both sides have to be as clear as they can for what they’re looking for and where they’re coming from. You’re right that it’s a case by case basis, and I think the only ‘answer’ to that is to as clear as possible and as positivity honest as either party can be. And hey, if that doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. 🙂

        (Wow that was a lot of words. COUGH. Hopefully I’m not just talking out my you-know-what here)

      2. Okay, so I feel real shitty because my response is really short compared to your long, detailed and honestly awesome feedback, but I basically agree with everything you’ve pointed out, here. I really appreciate all of these thoughts and reminders, too. Is it silly that I sorta needed to be reminded that my work is my own and it’s okay to ignore beta feedback or decide to solve a problem a different way than suggested?

        (Nope, not at all, you slayed that response and it means the world that you took the time to send it. <3)

      3. Oh my gosh don’t feel bad! Lol. Maybe it’s silly, but at the same time, maybe it’s not. We’re not robots, we learn by learning one perspective and than another, and we’re tribal animals, so we want to learn and gain approval from our fellows. It’s natural to need reminders to be ourselves, because in order to learn something else, we might have to step out of self for a while. (Apparently very philosophical today). Either way, I’m glad you got the reminder you needed! Cuz you rock and I like you yourself!

      4. Apparently killing it philosophical today, because with every word I read in that response, I just kept nodding. You know your shit, friend. Thanks for always sharing your brain wisdom and heart awesomeness with me.

  1. Okay so I DO have a close 2/3 writer group that I bounce all my stuff off of right now. IT’S GLORIUS & AWEFUL! for all the reasons… But what I’ve found is that you are the answer already because you’re asking the question. I mean, you know you, your style, what you love and if you get something back in a beta read that doesn’t jive with that then you toss it as preference. I guess it’s more of a feeling and knowing a direction for me and when I see something (well intentioned or not) that doesn’t go with my vision then it’s scrapped. Your vision for the story trumps everything else and if a reader consistently gives you feedback that is out of your vision than it’s time to move onto a different reader or critique group. I’ve also found that meeting IN PERSON changes all the thoughts/feedback. Seeing how someone reacts during the reading, having them read it to you, and give you thoughts is different from getting typed/non present advise because you are not in the moment with them. Hope these ramblings offer some insight. love your posts!

    1. That’s a good point. I think what I’ve struggling with is the truth that, if you disagree or just don’t want to follow someone else’s advice, you CAN just toss it out as preference and stick with what you prefer. Sometimes, I’ve tricked my mind into feeling guilty for asking for that kind of time from someone and then, I don’t want them to feel like I wasted it by ignoring that feedback. Which is probably the worst thing you can do for your own story, tbh. I do wish I could do in-person meetings, but my writing group is from all over the world, so emails are the only way. But I could see how that would be more helpful!

      Your “ramblings” were awesome and I appreciated them utterly. Thank you so much and good luck with your writing adventures!

  2. I read that post too and found myself agreeing more than I disagreed with Wendig. I think what he meant was: don’t get too influenced by other people’s opinions of what the book should look like when it’s YOUR work. Their expectations and vision of it may be totally different from what you set out to write, and that’s okay. A book is subject to many different interpretations in the hands of the reader, after all. As long as you as the write understand the story you want to tell and convey that as clearly as you can through your writing, readers can buy into your world and your vision.

    Speaking of editing, I hope my comments helped some! Please take it all with a grain of salt – they’re just my two cents’ worth. You can always choose which comments or advice to heed 🙂

    1. “Their expectations and vision of it may be totally different from what you set out to write, and that’s okay. A book is subject to many different interpretations in the hands of the reader, after all.”

      Oooh, Joyce, I should have just had you write my post for me, because that was spot on. Thank you so much for that reminder.

      Also, I haven’t, eh, looked at your comments yet. I wanted to wait until you finished reading** the whole thing before perusing. But thank you so much for your time in doing so. ❤ ❤ I can't wait to see what you think!

      ** No pressure, though! Take your time!

  3. I think a big part of it is getting a large sample. I’m currently working on a story that I showed to perhaps a dozen people, 6 of whom responded so far. The first one loved it, the second thought it needed minor tweaks, and the last 4 felt that it needed a lot of work.

    Another technique is to separate the problem from the suggested solution.
    Two people might feel that the characters are weak, but one might say the solution is to provide more backstory, while the other suggests the characters are too passive.

    In general if someone tells me the story has a problem, I believe them. I may disagree with them on what the problem is, or how to solve it, but in general I think most people know when a story isn’t working.

    Trust others to help you recognize that a story’s not working, and maybe how, but trust yourself to figure out how to fix it. Their ideas may help, but as you say, their ideas may say more about their own writing style than the nature of your story’s problem(s).

    1. Yes, I agree, a larger sample size also definitely helps. But I love this idea, that’s been echoed by others in the comments: “Trust others to help you recognize that a story’s not working, and maybe how, but trust yourself to figure out how to fix it.”

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