My WIP is reaching (I hope) its conclusion. Now in its twelfth incarnation, it has undergone numerous changes. It has lost its original ending (recycled to a later book), 15,000 words, and its original POV format.
The city in which the story was set has changed and even the genders of the two main characters has been switched round.
As a result, the very early notes bear almost no resemblance to the later and completed story. I imagine that this isn’t unusual, though.
But what I don’t know, despite all of this upheaval, is this; has the story improved at all?
From version 5.0, the first form in which I was prepared to let anyone else read it, my WIP has been passed out to more than a dozen friendly readers.
This has normally been followed by an ear-straining silence from them.
I can’t help but wonder (nail-biting newbie writer that I am) if this is because my work is so appallingly bad, stuffed with cliches and bad dialogue, that they can’t bring themselves to tell me the truth for fear of hurting my (admittedly sensitive) feelings.
Patience (for several weeks), polite queries (have you had a chance to read?’ and ‘hope I’m not bothering you, but…’) that are answered by ‘um…not yet’ or ‘I started on it, but…’ only encourage the fear-Kraken to rise anew from the depths.
My thoughts spiral down into ever-tightening coils of concern;
They’ve read it.
They must have.
And they HATE IT!
But how do I get them to admit it?
Do I want them to admit it?
The whole subject becomes an elephant in the room; a source of tension.
Mild paranoia sets in;
Do I say something?
Do I say nothing?
If I ask them, will they resent me for it and hate whatever I’ve written and still not tell me? Or worse – they might just say it’s nice. But if I say nothing will they just forget to read it or believe I don’t care what they think?
What’s an uncertain writer to do?
At the other end of the scale, ephemeral feedback such as; ‘I thought there was too much dialogue,’ ‘Yeah, it was good’ and ‘I liked it,’ (yes, I’ve had all three) is worse than useless to a writer. How can anyone glean anything remotely useful from that?
Scathing criticism, on the other hand, can completely shatter a writer’s confidence. ‘We can see no market for this type of story,’ one agent told me.
Hmm, no market for supernatural romance. I see. Better pass that onto Alyson Noel, PC Cast, Stephenie Meyer et al.
So, already traumatised beyond all reason by this experience, the newbie writer explores another avenue – that of the impartial reader. Other writers seem like a good choice. After all, they’re in the same game, right? They should know a good effort from a stinker, correct?
Only is everyone is honest.
Propping up another writer’s ego with praise when cold, honest critique ought to be levied would be a sin – as bad as well-meaning friends who can’t bring themselves to voice their honest opinion – ‘it needs more work’ (citing Chapter X, paragraph Y as ‘completely confusing’ or ‘difficult to read’).
The most encouraging comments I have received in the past few weeks have been from fellow bloggers (and one friendly reader asking for ‘more, please’ by email).
It’s made me wonder, having seen what others are writing, if reading outside our own genre would produce the best (and the most impartial) feedback.
For One, the reader is less likely to get drawn into the story to the exclusion of remaining ‘editorial’. I would never have chosen to read a contemporary book about a teenage runaway who gets sold into the slave trade,and yet, when it was passed to me, I was able to read, enjoy and yet remain detatched enough to be able to critique it. The story has stayed with me to this day.
For Two, the reader is less likely to make numerous comparisons with their own WIP – and there will be less risk of ‘idea trawling’ – a reassurance for the writer involved.
So I hereby pledge (*raises right hand) to read more of other’s work, whatever the genre, to judge it impartially and honestly, even at the risk of providing feedback that may not be exactly what the writer wishes to hear.
What are your thoughts on feedback? Could you you cope with honest, if discomfiting, critique? Could you remain on speaking terms with someone who described your WIP as ‘too slow’ or ‘unengaging?’