In April, the first 250 words of my work-in-progress were featured as the “real life diagnostics” on my favorite writing help blog, Fiction University. I love the way this author teaches the craft of story structure. And it’s free! Anyway, it was an awesome experience and you can go check out my excerpt and the comments. (she said, nervously)
Squeeeeeeak! Microphone feedback. No one likes that nail-down-a-chalkboard sound. Most of us don’t like feedback on our art, especially when it is called by its professional name, “constructive criticism.” It also has a trendy, hipster name: “concrit.” Eventually, you get to a place in your craft where you can see the problems in your own work and you stop hating the gatekeepers. There are fantastic editors for hire (and some scammers, caveat emptor) and some great fee-based peer review groups. You can also enter contests for a small fee—-even if you don’t win, you usually get feedback from the judges, either in the form of a scorecard or notes written in your document.
But what do you do if you just spent your last three bucks to buy your kids donuts they can eat in the back of the minivan on the way to the thing you’re late for? I’m glad you asked! First, you find a few friends who are willing to read your writing. Not all of them will be honest, but ask them where they stopped reading and started skimming. This will at least show you where they got bored. Then, if you’re lucky enough to have family who will read your stuff, listen to their comments. Don’t disdain the family/friends feature. These are the people who will show up at your future booksigning so you don’t look awkward sitting at a table all alone.
Next, read reviews! Authors are not supposed to read their own reviews on Amazon because it turns them into vampires or something, but we can! Go read all those 1 and 2 star reviews and find out what readers abhor. Poor characterization, head-hopping, telling, endings that fizzle, poor editing, etc. Then learn what all these things really mean and avoid them in your work.
(At this point, you might realize WITH HORROR that the prose that seemed publication-ready to you and your friends is really awful drivel that should be shoved into a drawer forever. Mope and move on! Really. If you skip the moping you’ll only be moping on the inside. So take an afternoon to listen to Chopin and cry because he was taken from us so young! And then MOVE. ON.)
Then, spy. Spy on other people’s critiques. You can do this at writer’s conferences, in blogs, podcasts, etc. That’s the whole reason I submitted my stuff for critique: I learned something every week from the constructive criticism of other people’s work. One time, I was at a conference where a panel of professionals critiqued five different anonymous, unpublished submissions. The twist was that you were asked to submit TEN pages of your stuff, but they only had time to read TWO pages out loud. Before then, I had heard the phrase “hook your reader” but had no earthly idea how fast you actually have to do that. Two pages. Two paragraphs, if possible. The experience was incredible. I still refer to the notes from that night!
All writers must seek to improve their craft. Even the published ones. Good luck. And go read my little thing at the place!!