Answers to a Writer’s Questions, Part 1: Getting Feedback on Your Writing

In this series, I am going to answer specific questions posed by a reader in a comment to The Value of Writers Groups. Although the questions are specific to one writer, many other writers probably have similar questions.

Patti McQuillen wrote:

I am the webmaster of Gaslight Writers, a writing group for adults in the Louisville, Kentucky area. I am also a beginning writer and would like to know the best way to proceed. I have some short stories in the works, yet do not know how to get them reviewed to see what changes are needed. I am letting members of the writing group read and offer feedback, yet I really hope to get the feedback of other published writers.

The name of the writers group caught my attention because I work with GASLight Publishing, LLC, owned by friends Ken and Grace Anne Schaefer. But Patti raised some good questions, and I would have answered them even if I didn’t like the name of the group so much. 🙂

Having fellow members of the writing group read and give feedback is a good first step. Here are a few more ideas to consider:

  • Form a critique group of a few writers who meet regularly to read and critique each other’s work. For several years, three other writers came to my house once a week. We each brought three copies of a chapter of our current work-in-progress and distributed them to each of the other members. Then we talked about the chapters from the previous week. We went around the table and gave our feedback, and we returned the copy of the chapter with our comments. This worked because we all wanted honest feedback, and we trusted each other to give it. Each of us had different strengths, so together we gave a comprehensive evaluation of the work. If one person didn’t like something, the writer considered her suggestion and decided whether it had merit or not. If two people commented on the same thing, the writer considered the suggestions very carefully. And if all three pointed out the same concern, the writer knew she had to change it. It’s not easy to get the right group of people together – I’ve tried some other groups that didn’t work so well. Thomma Lyn at Tennessee Text Wrestling offers excellent advice on critique partners. Patti, you might suggest starting such a group to some of the other members of Gaslight Writers on a trial basis for a specified time period, maybe three months – long enough to get familiar with each other’s work and to become more confident in sharing, but with a finite evaluation point so you can dissolve the group if it’s not effective. Establishing some guidelines at the beginning will make success more likely: when and where you will meet, how you present work for critique (a copy for each member to read at home, reading aloud, etc.), and what you expect from the critiques. It doesn’t have to be only short-story writers in your case – members could either bring a short story or a chapter of a novel for critique.
  • Look for an online critique group or partner. Writing World’s Critique and Discussion Groups page is a good place to start. Unfortunately, many of the links are no longer valid, but there are several sites to consider. The list of articles about critiquing at the top of page (though some of these are also obsolete) includes some good resources on how to critique as well as how to find or form a critique group. Writer’s Digest also offers a list of online critique groups, again with several dead links, and advice on finding the right online critique group. You can find more information – primarily aimed at children’s writers – at Writer’s Critique Groups: Where to Find Them, and there’s a link to another article on forming your own group. You can also join online writers communities and when you meet another writer that you think is a good candidate for a critique partner, ask her if the two of you can partner to read and critique each other’s work.
  • Create a one-time (or periodic) critique exchange. One Christian agent recommends that before submitting to an agent, several writers get together and find people in their church to read their manuscripts and the manuscripts of the other writers in the group and give feedback. Obviously, this specifically applies to Christian books, but a similar approach could be taken in other genres as well – perhaps a reading group would be interested in reading an unpublished work and giving feedback. They might enjoy feeling like they are part of the process of getting the story or book published. While not published writers who can give you advice on specific techniques, readers can tell what they like as a readers. After all, a writer’s ultimate goal is to please readers. Patti, you might check with local libraries and bookstores to find out about reading groups and see if anyone is interested.
  • Hire a professional editor or book doctor or offer to compensate a published author for a manuscript evaluation. Although I don’t recommend spending money for professional advice in the early stages of your writing career, at some point, you may want to invest in feedback from a professional. This can range from a simple manuscript evaluation pointing out the strengths and areas that need to be improved to a full edit. You may learn enough from having one story edited that you can improve all your stories.

I hope these suggestions help Patti and other beginning writers as well.

In the next post, I will answer Patti’s question about the children’s book CD she published.

Related Posts:
About Critique Groups
Beware of the Wrong Critique Groups
The Value of Writers Groups

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