After you’ve finished and published a couple of books, you’ll know what does and doesn’t work for you. But early on, as you’re still in the process of finishing your first book, there are some key ways you can make it a little easier for yourself and learning the fine balance of when to get feedback on writing is one of them.
In my First Book Finish course, I have a tool called “Rules of the Draft” designed to provide exactly the kind of guidance writers need to keep them on track to finish. So you can be sure I have OPINIONS on this kind of thing. #sorrynotsorry
And on occasion, I still hear writers tell me about either being tempted to do something that I think is a huge mistake…OR, they come to me for coaching and when we talk it quickly becomes clear that they’ve already made this mistake and this is one of the reasons they are now feeling “stuck.”
You know that “stuck” feeling, right? UGH.
The story or poem that started out with such promise is just a source of frustration now. Maybe you’ve stuck it in a drawer or it used to be front and centre on your desk but is not at the bottom of a stack of books? And mayyybe, just maybe, now you’re avoiding your writing altogether, because you have not a sweet clue how to fix what now feels like a completely failed piece of writing.
UGH. And have you gone that extra step in your mind to say some nasty things about what a failure YOU are, as a writer…and maybe even as a human being now?
Been there, friend. More times than I can count. And guess what?
Beating yourself up doesn’t help, so cut it out. When you hear those thoughts popping into your mind, say “STOP” to yourself and remind yourself that you are an artist with a work-in-progress. That’s all: creative struggle is part of the artistic process.
GET FEEDBACK ON WRITING, YES, BUT…
I’m guessing that you’ve gotten yourself into this situation by making this one crucial mistake: you asked for feedback on your work too damn early.
Please don’t get me wrong: feedback is essential for improving our writing. We have to know how readers are receiving what we’ve laid out on the page, so we can assess how close we’ve come to communicating the true intention of our work and precisely where we need to do further work on a piece and what to fix.
Feedback is so important for a writer. (The only thing I can think of that’s possibly more useful is a deadline.)
I definitely want you to get good constructive feedback on your work, but I don’t think it’s helpful to get that feedback too early in the development of a piece, especially for newer writers.
- Have you written the first draft of a short story but you’re still not really sure how it ends or — and this is critical — what it’s even about?
- Do you have an idea for a novel that’s really exciting you and since you have 48 pages written already, you’re thinking you might as well see if anyone else is as excited as you are about this idea?
In both of these cases, it’s too early, my friend.
Don’t rely on your first readers to tell you what your story “should be” about. Know what it’s about and what you’re trying to achieve and then ask for feedback on how close you’ve come to achieving your intent. That’s the best use of feedback and a way to help ensure that the feedback you receive will be constructive and useful.
I see this often, where a writer doesn’t yet fully know the characters or dilemmas or even the setting or backstory or ending or even MOST of the critical elements of their book, and they send it out to ask for feedback.
And hoo-boy, feedback is definitely what they get. They get told that the characters aren’t clear, and there’s not enough at stake for the story to really be compelling, and the setting is a bit confusing and the characters aren’t really clear.
And if you've ever done this, then you know that your writer’s sensitive little heart just shrinks down five sizes in fear. Because a part of you knows that this feedback is all true and now you feel like the book is a failure and so you're a failure as a writer and you might as well just give up because you’ll never get it right and you’ll never be published and achieve your writing dreams. (Am I close?)
UGH. Next thing you know, the book’s in a drawer and you're avoiding it.
But OF COURSE the characters aren’t clear and the setting isn’t clear and the stakes aren’t working and there’s not enough momentum. OF COURSE. Because you’re not finished yet and you haven’t done the work of understanding what your story is really about and how it’s going to work.
You can’t rely on someone else to tell you what your story (or poem, or essay) is about. So don’t go out for feedback too early or you’ll get really great feedback about all the many, many ways it’s not working yet. YET.
And this may be even worse: you can end up trying to write someone else’s idea of a good book, instead of the book you know in your artist’s heart you originally wanted to write.
Stop doing that to yourself, my friend. Stop it now.
So, when IS a good time to seek feedback? When the first draft is done and you are clear in your own mind about what you’re trying to achieve.
Now, there are exceptions for writers who are further along. If you’re working with an agent or editor for any book after your first, and you want to get feedback on a partial draft…or if you’re a seasoned writer with a strong writing group and want to test out an idea, then go for it. But ONLY if and when you absolutely know that you are the artist here and you are in charge of what your work-in-progress will eventually be.
(And chances are, if you’re further along in your writing career, you have also done the necessary mindset work to separate your writing from your worth as a human being, right? Because until you do that, feedback can still be more of an obstacle in your writing process than a useful tool. Yes?)
But if you’re early in your career and want to be sure that you will finish your book, then you have to avoid seeking feedback too soon. Don’t do it to yourself, don’t do it to your early readers, and don’t do it to the book.
I promise you that following just this one rule can make it easier to finish your book and much more likely that you’ll actually reach that special moment in every writer’s life when you type those two magic words: