Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, October 18, 2011 33 comments
My critique group meets tonight and it was really tough for me to not send bits of my rough draft in progress off to the gang for feedback. But I had to ask myself whether feeback at this stage would be a help or a hinderance. I tend to have only the loosest sense of the trajectory of the story when drafting, leaving lots of room for discoveries, but also for wrong turns and deadends. Those wrong turns sometimes don't reveal themselves as such for chapters and chapters. Getting feedback too soon might tempt me to keep in a well written scene that takes the story the wrong direction, or alternately, to abandon an idea that needs more development but could flower into something amazing.

With my previous book, I had two people who served as "alpha readers": folks who read chapters as I finished them, cheered me on and with whom I could discuss problems that perplexed me. Their purpose was not so much to critique as to be an accountability mechanism and sounding board.

Only after I had a complete draft did I ask for critiques, starting with broad-strokes issues like characterization, plot and pacing. Those folks were "beta readers." In the revision process, I leaned on my critique groups to help me do the next sets of revisions (I jokingly called them "gamma" and "delta" readers).

I now wonder if that could have been a more efficient process. I fear I became a bit too much of a feedback junkie, and got addicted to having "enough" praise before I felt good about a section. What I lost was a sense of my own vision and confidence in my instincts.

How about you? How many people see your work and at what stages?

image from www.morguefile.com

33 comments:

  1. Hmm..it varies for me. I now usually only show my husband (who is a writer, too) my chapters as I go along. Then I have a few people who critique the complete, um, second draft. When I fix that, I let my mom and little sisters do a grammar/consistency check because they are very good at it!
    I have found that showing too many people often results in too many varying opinions. It's easy to lose sight of your book as you want it to be. At the same time, you don't want to miss out on a good perspective, so it's a tricky balance!

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  2. I work with a critique group of three and I have had a few outside beta readers too. I get the good with the bad but am learning to wait to send it out later rather than sooner.

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  3. I have found that too many readers too soon doesn't help as much as waiting a little might. But I feel like I can be a bit of a critique junkie, too.

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  4. I have found the encouragement from early readers addictive. I have since learned to let that go. Now I usually don't show anyone anything until I'm on my third draft.

    By my third draft, I've pretty much found all my holes, fixed my grammar and punctuation, and I'm looking at an 85% finished product.

    Then I give it to my two CP's and my two "readers". They usually tell me what the problems are and I fix them. AFter that, It goes out once more to the last CP and the last "reader" and usually it's called done.

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  5. Nobody sees a project until I have the whole thing down and have fixed all the mistakes I myself can see (unless there's a problem I see but don't know how to fix). Then I like to get one round of input from several people, and compare all their feedback as I revise. Often I get one more round of feedback later, a smaller round with one or two readers.

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  6. Ah, it took me a few books to get this down, so I feel your pain! It's hard to know what's going to work and when you need the feedback. I now have a few alpha readers who read large chunks of the book as I'm writing, but I only want general cheerleading feedback. After that, I get beta readers to read the first draft and I go from there. Usually about three rounds before it goes to my publisher and editor.

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  7. I've swapped the first chapter of my WiP a few times as I tried to find CPs, but I've learned that it's counterproductive for me to receive critiques or even general comments while first drafting. Ideally, I'd send my mss out after I have revised them myself.

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  8. Very rarely do I let crit partners see a first draft first chapter right off the press. I like to be a good way into the manuscript. And I prefer to have major rewrites done but if I do submit, I let them know it's rough.

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  9. I used to give out first drafts but I soon learned it was not useful to me at all. Second drafts from now on at the EARLIEST.

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  10. This is a great post, and so true! Early in my writing life I needed that immediate feedback too. Accountability for one, and also the encouragement to keep going. Now I rarely share stuff until I think it's as good as I can get on my own.

    It's most helpful, early on, if I have a specific question. I'll send a few pages and say, "Is this voice working?" or "Does this scene feel realistic?" so that my CP only need to read for one thing. It's fast for them, and I don't get distracted by all the other things they saw that I wasn't in need of knowing yet.

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  11. Faith: It IS a tricky balance. I have a really hard time writing the first draft with the door closed--letting no one see anything. I tend to edit as I write instead so I can show chapters to my alphas. I this might be the main thing that slows me down too much.

    Terri: later rather than sooner is a good way to avoid burning out readers, for sure.

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  12. Janet: I think what's hardest is the loneliness of the process at times. But when I was most prolific (teen years) I was far better at closed door.

    Anne: Your process might help cure me of the "edit as you go" problem I struggle with.

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  13. Jenn: I do think the alpha reader method has the main drawback of making me want to edit as I go instead of drafting fast and free. It's a habit I don't think I'll be able to shed easily tho. Maybe NaNo therapy would help. :-D

    Michelle: Do you find that alphas make you edit as your draft? I do, and it is the main thing blocking my productivity, I think.

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  14. Laurel, no, they don't. Unless they point out something HUGE I totally missed, which does happen occasionally. The thing is I edit as I go anyway. It's just how I write.

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  15. Emy: Absolutely--crits are most helpful once you have the whole story arc worked out, then you know what should stay and what should go.

    Laura: The "roughs" I let my alphas see are usually not very rough, and that, I think, is the problem. I edit as I go and prettify rooms that are still under construction, so to speak.

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  16. Jessica: Knowing eyes will be on early material tends to cramp me up. I need to either stop the alpha reading or let my sloppy stutterings be seen.

    Heidi: I think my professional training as an editor has instilled some negative things--like hyper-awareness of my own capacity for self-deception (I think it's good, so therefore it must be crap) so that only an outside voice can validate the quality in any meaningful way. Having the right balance of confidence and humility seems like a very lofty goal that I'm not sure how to reach.

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  17. Michelle: It's funny that I keep hearing "edit as you go" is the chief of all big mistakes, and yet it feels natural to me, and sounds like for you also. Perhaps it's like the outline vs. seat of your pants debate that goes on endlessly. No one method works for every temperament.

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  18. Laurel, I wrote this post a few weeks ago. Don't fight your instincts. Do what's right for YOU. After all, it's your writing, your books, your career, and there truly are no rules except the ones you make. :)

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  19. Michelle: Thanks for the encouragement. I bet there are plenty of other edit-as-you-go folks like us who are afraid to admit they feel happier producing work they went over and over while drafting. We can start our own club. :-D

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  21. VERY interesting. Great point about the tangents you may never discover if you show your work too soon! That's one reason I don't like sharing mine until I have written "The End" at the completion of my first draft. I may share the first chapter with a CP to get feedback on whether I've started out compellingly enough, but then the wheel is mine. Too much feedback can be a muddy thing. I think it's crucial for my growth as a writer to be able to figure out things for myself initially. :)

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  22. I won't let anyone see my work until it's gone through several drafts. My CP will get it first in chunks. After that, the ms goes through waves of beta readers until I'm happy with the outcome.

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  23. I don't let anyone see my work until after the 2nd or 3rd pass.

    I hope this finds you well. :)

    Hugs,
    Lola

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  24. I let my first draft go out to betas and CPs (usually 2 each) and then do a big revision based on pooled feedback. After that, I have a detailed crit by one or at most, two more people.

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  25. When I drafted my first novel, I exchanged chapters with a writing partner and now, looking back, I realize that was not the best method for me. I second guessed myself too much at a point in the project where I needed the freedom to roam into exit-less rooms and down bottomless stairways. I got lost and subsequently, shelved the project. I'm getting attempt #2 underway, and this time my first draft will be for my eyes only. Hopefully, the results will be better!

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  26. I'm learning to hold on to my work instead of letting it go too early just to hear 'it's good, keep going' from others. I know my ego needs these strokes but feeding it regularly with judgements from others hurts my growing self-confidence in my own decisions in writing.

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  27. I've come to discover that for me it works best to not let anyone see my first drafts; the idea is still too new and critiques stifle my creative soul at this stage. Sometimes I won't let anyone read my second drafts either. I usually wait to send a piece out for critiques until I've rewritten and edited a draft to the best of my abilities. And then I send it out and ask: Is this working? This has been the best method for me so far.

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  28. I talked about crits today on my blog, too. I think I definitely fed on the praise for awhile. It's hard to learn that sometimes it's okay to say no, that what you want could actually be what's best for your book.

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  29. Carol: Too much feedback can muddy the waters for sure. With one of my projects, it's (muddy)water under the bridge at this point.

    Stina: I like the waves of readers method, too. Fresh eyes can be so helpful.

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  30. Lola: I think the ability to wait for feedback comes with experience, don't you?

    Lydia: I've used far, far more people at every stage, partly because I could.

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  31. Nicole: It can be so hard to keep the door closed with the first draft--and feedback has a way of boxing in where the book might go. I hope you're able to stay strong with book 2 and wait to share pages.

    Lynn: I think it takes time to be content writing for yourself first, and to keep plugging even when you're not sure if a piece is good yet.

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  32. Valerie: sounds like a logical way to approach feedback. I especially liked what you said about the stifling effect of showing still-forming ideas to others. Well said.

    Nisa: It definitely takes experience to realize some readers won't get what you're doing thematically or resonate with your writing, so some opinions won't be helpful and you have to lay them aside.

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  33. oh, man. I'm a total feedback junkie. I'm like the worst ever. Poor hubs. Whenever I write somethin I really like, I'm all "Read this! Read this!" And he's like, "Just keep writing. THEN I'll read it." He's so right. I try to plow through first, then let him and some other betas read and give feedback, revise some more, then see what happens~ :o) <3 good luck!

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