Recently I took the first few pages of a new work-in-progress to my local writers’ group seeking honest feedback. While it might have felt like facing a pack of crocodiles, I discovered once again that being a writer requires thick skin.
Having cut my teeth on non-fiction and then contemporary fiction with romantic elements, my latest project requires me to dive into the unfamiliar waters of historical time periods and locations far away.
While I was steadily wading through the muddy middle of a novella set in the medieval Scottish Highlands, I knew I would need honest feedback to know whether the story itself held together and if I’d created sympathy for my poor heroine. One big issue I know I’ll need to address during revisions is capturing the historical feel in my descriptions and dialogue, but for now, I just wanted to know if the story worked as something that could plausibly happen in that time period.
Even though I’m multi-published and have past experience with the editing process…and opinionated reviewers, it’s still scary to walk into a room of writers and hand over my precious pages. But it had to be done before I got too committed to the story I was writing.
So, I took a deep breath, let everyone know this was a very ROUGH draft (i.e. don’t blast me for misspellings or grammar or repeated words quite yet…please!), and then made it clear what I needed to know when they were finished reading.
The next ten minutes felt like two hundred as the room silently read, scribbled notes, and flipped pages. Meanwhile, I’m kicking myself under the table asking what kind of fool was I to bring such rough pages to this group. Did the pursed lips of the woman across the way mean she was confused…or thoughtful…or simply wondering which fatal flaw to address first?
It takes bravery to ask for honest feedback. But perhaps it takes even more to receive and apply it. (And the wisdom to know they were critiquing a few pages of a rough story and NOT me personally.)
Once they were done reading, I pulled out a pad of paper and started taking frantic notes as the feedback rolled in. Good stuff in one column. Bad stuff in another. Two writers pointed out the same place on page three where they felt the story truly started. At least four told me the “disguise-her-true-identity” ploy did not work…and wasn’t needed anyway. Several more told me they were captured by the potential conflict and wanted to know what happened next. Meanwhile, the historical writers in the room didn’t feel the historical setting but the contemporary readers got confused about a few words and phrases I’d used.
I walked away from the meeting with quite a bit more than I’d bargained for.
But am I glad I took the risk? Absolutely.
I now know where the story starts and it will no longer be bogged down with set-the-scene descriptions or backstory. I feel confident that readers will care about my main character and her journey. And I’ve even gleaned insight to make an informed decision about how much “history” to weave into the finished product.
Thick skin is certainly required when seeking honest feedback, but not so thick that the shared wisdom rolls off and is ignored.
What about you? When was the last time you asked someone for their honest opinion? Were you able to receive it without snapping back or dissolving into crocodile tears? If they were right, did you grow as a result?