We are talking about feedback this week. From critique partnering to participating in a year-long workshop, I’m pretty sure I have received feedback on THE CITY BAKER’S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING in every possible form.
So let’s start off with a question. Do you need feedback on your novel? The answer is yes. But it’s important to consider what kind of feedback you need in the moment. Here is a list of places you can get new eyes on your work, and how and when they might be helpful.
Critique partner—this is another writer, often a friend, who you regularly swap work with. I think every writer should have a critique partner. They serve as your first reader, someone you can go to for support, who will keep you on task, and who will be most familiar with your work. If you are not quite ready for feedback, it’s still great to pair up with a writing friend and just get together and write. Then you will have someone you feel comfortable with to turn to when you get stuck.
Writer’s group—a lot like a critique partner, but with more people. I know people who have been in the same writer’s group for decades. I belonged to the best writer’s group in the world, VGAWP, which is an acronym for something I cannot remember. We disbanded when my best writing friend ran away to Texas. I still miss that group. Critique groups are helpful for all the same reasons that critique partners are helpful, with the added bonus that you get to hear more than one opinion. Plus if one person’s babysitter doesn’t show up or someone has the flu or one of them moves to Texas, theoretically you can still meet. Unless you are VGAWP. It is great to be a part of a writer’s group at every stage of writing.
Workshops, part 1. Short-term. These are writing classes you take for 6 or 8 or 10 weeks, where you workshop short stories or scenes from your novel. Workshops are wonderful for getting a fresh perspective. Having an experienced teacher lead a workshop discussion can elevate the level of discussion, and getting feedback from a group of strangers can give you a fresh perspective. Taking a workshop is an excellent step when you are ready to hear more objective opinions.
Workshops, part 2. Long-term. I had the great fortune of participating in a year-long workshop for novelists called Novel Incubator. There were ten students, led by one teacher. Over the course of the year we read and critiqued each other’s full novels twice. Working so closely with other novelists at the same stage was invaluable. I revised my full novel at least three times during that year. Highly recommended when you have a full novel draft. Once you are ready to revise your book, you will need to start receiving feedback on the book as a whole.
If you don’t have access to a long-term workshop, or a workshop that focuses on novels, you may want to consider getting a professional manuscript consultation with a published author or editor. Having a professional writer—especially one you have no relationship with—read your whole book and offer a new perspective can help you recognize the weak parts of your manuscript and guide you towards the revisions you need to make before you are ready to query.
No matter what part of the process you are in, it’s always important to be in conversation about your writing. After all, at the end of the day, most of us are hoping that our stories are read. Letting other writers read your work is the first step.
I will be teaching a workshop on how to work with feedback and use it to develop a revision plan with the fabulous Kate Racculia at The Muse and the Marketplace conference this spring. Hope to see some of you there!