Know whom to trust

We writers are solitary types, aren’t we?  The genius in his garret, inspiration flowing, creating the masterpiece that will overwhelm its readers; and if it doesn’t overwhelm them, then, well, presumably that’s their problem:  they just aren’t sensitive enough to get it…

Yeah, yeah, nice idea, Mr S Taylor Coleridge.  Way to make a writer feel special!  Maybe we can forgive the implied elitism from someone writing in the days of mass illiteracy and a rigid class system, but it won’t wash nowadays, will it?  If you want people to pay for your book, you’ve got to write one that meets their expectations. How many Romantic Poets have you seen on a bestseller list recently?

Which means that getting advice and feedback is going to be a necessary part of trying to make it as a writer.  Your innate genius is not enough.  Sorry.

But whose advice can you trust?  After all, what appeals to readers varies so much from individual to individual.  Now, a qualified English teacher is a great bet if you are unsure about punctuation, and she’ll have a mass of reading experience to draw on when giving all sorts of literary advice, but that won’t guarantee she is always right.  You need more than one person to help you.

My advice?

  1. Don’t start showing work too soon; give yourself enough time to work, rework, improve, learn and work out where you are going.  Don’t confuse yourself by asking for advice when you’ve barely started.
  2. Take feedback from different sources, but make sure it is from people who are willing to be honest.  You don’t need a sample of hundreds, but you do need more than four or five.
  3. Get people to write their notes on a printout of your work.  It forces them to reflect more carefully and to be more specific with their comments.
  4. Consider feedback as a way for you to look at your own work through fresh      eyes.  You may find you have to be brutal with cuts and changes. But have faith in your own judgement, too.  Sometimes the best person to trust is yourself.  Don’t make changes you really feel you don’t agree with.  You may not be a poetic genius.  But it’s your book.

Action Point Three:  Pick a fiction book that you haven’t read and of a type you wouldn’t normally choose.  One of your spouse’s or partner’s books could be ideal.  Read the first chapter and write down your comments, just as if the author had asked you for feedback.  Be as specific as you can.  You are not allowed to say things like, ‘I didn’t like it because war books bore me.’  Keep your notes so you can use them in future to show the sort of feedback you are seeking on your work.