About seeking creative feedback…

I’ve been writing creatively for a rather long time.  I’ve not however found a lot of solid feedback from most of my work.   Sure love ones can be emotionally guilt-tripped into reading, but more often than not the feedback is lackluster.  Your loved ones want you to be happy, and they don’t want to be the one that makes you unhappy.

As a writer, I spend a long time crafting in secret.  All those little story ideas (a good friend calls them plot bunnies) bouncing around inside my head until the total chaos of all those plot bunnies flood into my Muse’s apartment.  This makes him cranky and he gets out the big guns to settle the problem.  And thus, words come streaming out of my head as my Muse tries to recover his space and his peace and quiet.

I’ll gather all of these words up and — if I’m lucky — record them all in a story.  When the plot bunnies are quiet and there are no new holes in my Muse’s apartment, I review what I’ve written.  Since the story already lives in my head, the missing pieces are fit together magically and I see the wonderful new story before me that if it doesn’t hit the best seller’s lists, then I have indisputable proof those metrics are all faked!

I simply can’t believe just how great I am and so I seek feedback.  I gather up the story, clean it up for presentation, and submit it out to a few trusted souls and wait…   And wait…  And wait…   (taps hooves)  No, really, I’m waiting here with baited breath…  Yes, the internet is up…    And here comes a new email….  Oh, rats!  No, I don’t need pills for that…

Its so very hard to remember at times like this, that writing is a -inside the skull- art.  It starts inside, it transmits inside, and it is received inside.  Its not like drawn art where you can look at it and take it in quickly.   It takes time for all of those words to go from the book to the Reader.  And dear friends, I capitalize the Reader because he or she is very important.  The Reader is the reason writers exist.  So here I am, waiting with my soul exposed to the harsh elements, waiting for the Reader to finish their job and get back to me.  I just know they are going to love it, tell me I’m great and out will come the superlative…   And…   Still waiting.

You might think I would become angry at this point.   Actually, I understand quite well what’s going on.   I drop an unfinished manuscript section on someone and they see at once that its thirty thousand words, prints about to about 90 pages and is likely to eat several hours they could better spend grinding on World of WarCrack in hopes that one particular shield finally drops.  And why should they put my ego above their own leisure pursuits?

The short answer is that they are not an ideal ‘Beta Reader’.  They may be people who’s opinion you value, or who’s approval you crave, but unless they are willing to give you the time it takes to read your stuff, they won’t give you good feedback.  And even if they do, they will almost never give effective feedback.

Such kinds of ineffective feedback can be really upsetting.  Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:

“I can’t wait to see where you take the story.”

“I liked it, but you keep making [insert grammatical/spelling error here] mistake.”

“Wow that’s just great!”

As you can see there is no meat in the message there.  Even the second one isn’t really helpful because its just picking nits and not actually commenting on the content of your story.  Don’t get me wrong, there is a time to pick on every nit you can find, but this isn’t it.

Beta Readers are worth their weight in gold, but don’t waste their time.  They are willing to give to you their attention and deserve a little in return.  If your section requires more than just a cautionary paragraph about its raw, work-in-progress nature, then perhaps its not really ready to share yet.  Yes, I’m rather guilty of this, I’ll send a section out, get back a bunch of constructive feedback (if it hurts, but also helps your story, it was constructive) I have a hard time not firing off an updated copy as soon as I’ve addressed all of the things that were pointed out.   Don’t do that, trust me, it doesn’t work out well.

So you have found a willing ear, what should you send them?  Well, at best send them a finished DRAFT.  It doesn’t need to be perfect, but it should be complete.  If its only part of the whole, send a complete part, and save off where the edges are still showing.

How should you format what you send?  Take a little effort to assist in readability.   Start new paragraphs off with an indent.  Use a scene separator of some kind [—], [***], or something similar.  Use a page break between Chapters.  Use a blank page between sections.  The first page should be a title page.   While the title page you might use to submit the work to a publisher will do, lets add a few items on the front page: Word count, the name and info of the person your offering this copy to, the date it was put together for them, a brief statement of what sort of feedback your looking for (or not looking for), and your gratitude for their read.  While it might be a wee-bit rude to include a date to return it by, adding “Please reply with your comments no later than…” is ok.

Now, I’ve formatted my story, found a real good Beta Reader, and sent it on its way; now what?  You wait, and wait as patiently as you can.  Your Reader will get back to you after they have read it, had time to digest it, and write up their comments.   It took you three months to write those 90k words, you can give your Reader more than 30 minutes to read and reply.

TLDR: While you might be a needy artist, acting like one does not help you at all.  Chill out, and help your Reader like what you’ve written.

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