“Well, I tried to read it, but… sorry, I couldn’t get past the first page.”
If you’ve ever put your creative work out for other to see, you likely did so wincing with trepidation, unsure what to expect.
Do they love it? Do they hate it?
Did he just laugh? At what?
Did she just raise her eyebrows?
Is that interest at a cool turn of phrase, or disgust at some mistake I didn’t catch?
Sometimes the response you get back is empty of value. Other times, it’s thoughtless and crushing.
One of the hardest steps we take as amateur writers is giving others the opportunity to read our work. It feels easier to leave all our poems or stories in files on the computer than to face the judgment we fear.
But unless it’s a private diary or journal, reading is an essential part of the writing process. The audience is the intended recipient of all our word-smithing, and their response is the tool we use to discover what we’re doing well and where we’ve missed the mark.
What if we could witness those important cues and responses in a friendly setting, a “safe space” of sorts? What if we got insight from other writers on a similar journey–people who know not just what we’re going through but how it feels–rather than from “professional readers” whose replies lack technical detail or depth?
Enter the feedback group.
I’ve written about the value of such groups before, so this time, I thought I could show an example of what good feedback looks like:
The Word document at that link is a combination of comments and discussion points over aspects of grammar, description, dialogue, and format. I love the comment feature on Word and similar programs for this purpose.
Kyle writes epic fantasy, and he also pays great attention to detail. He uses AutoCrit among other programs and services to dig into the weeds on his own writing.
One good example of such detail is that in my original draft, I used “then” 12 times. As an example of the constructive type of feedback, Kyle not only pointed these out but also provided re-writing suggestions for how to avoid them.
Jessica is an avid fantasy reader and helped me see what worked really well in my descriptions.
A newcomer to the group, Natalie mentioned how a portion of dialogue struck her as possibly too modern for the setting.
Judy is a professor at one of the on-base colleges. She saw a lot of meaning in the imagery and word choice that I didn’t anticipate or intend. I can use that feedback to do a better job intentionally incorporating those aspects in future writing.
One point that isn’t captured in the document (because I forgot to add it as a comment): I described Fleuris as having hair the color of carnations… but there are many varieties of carnations. Judy and Kyle assumed red, and Jessica pictured a light pink–which is what I was aiming for. Lesson learned: it’s not a clear description as written.
At the end of the session, Natalie–a newcomer to the group–remarked that the experience was better than she expected or feared. In her career dealing with military writing, she’d seen arguments over whether to use “or” or “and” in order to highlight some meaning in an article. “People spend hours bickering over these minor details,” she said. “I guess I thought it might be like that.”
That fear is common when joining a new community or putting our work out for others to see. But like many things in life, the fear is often far worse than reality.
In a good group, everyone has the same vision of constructive criticism in order to make each other’s work better. In that light, while it may sting a little to realize I’ve made a mistake, I develop from the insight of others and hone my skills for next time.
For anyone wishing to grow as a writer, I can think of no greater resource or method than a solid, constructive feedback group.
Military Community Writers currently meets every two weeks from 10:30 to 12:30 on Saturday at the Kadena Base Library. Our next meeting is July 29th. Got something to share? Come out and take the plunge with the rest of us.