Reviewing the Situation

It’s amazing how precious reviews and feedback are, I’m finding. As someone who has a fairly fragile ego (yes, I do. Don’t look so shocked. Or snigger) I’d have thought I’d either not dare show anyone any work or else put it out, and scurry into the corner with my hands over my ears so I couldn’t hear any reactions.

On the contrary, I’m almost hungry for feedback and reviews and criticism. I’ve been lucky enough to get some lovely reviews of my little ebook on Amazon already, but I want MORE! On the one hand, yes of course I want to hear people saying “Darling, it’s simply marvellous, you are absolutely going to be a number one bestseller” but I also really and truly want to hear what I’m doing wrong too. I have a shelf full of writing books and they are nearly all extremely helpful but what I’m finding is there is nothing as helpful as actually writing something and having someone who knows what they’re talking about point out what you could do differently. Let’s not say “wrong”, as obviously all opinions are subjective but someone who’s been round the block a few times or looking at your work with no bias can spot errors or give suggestions that you yourself can’t see. And I need that so much!

I went along to a workshop given by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators last night (SCBWI = Scooby. So I’m told) and if you were following me on Twitter you were probably sick of me going on about it. It was the first time I’ve been to a writing workshop and the first time (at least since GCSE English) that I’ve sat down with people and discussed different texts, looking for what works and what doesn’t. We started with some published (and very good) texts, both a picture book and a full-length YA novel, then moved on to anonymous critiques of members’ work. We did three picture book texts, a picture book synopsis and mine was the only novel excerpt – my first three pages. I’d agonised over whether to put forward my synopsis or my actual text and printed off sets of each, making up my mind at the last minute to choose text as I really wanted to know if the opening answered the questions suggested by the leader (if you’re interested I’ll do a post about those at another time as they’re really helpful). The really good thing about the anonymous critiques was that since no-one knew whose the work was they were more upfront and honest, I think, than they would otherwise have been. I know I was. This meant you knew that the reactions you were getting were completely based on your work and the question of whether people liked you or not was not colouring their perceptions. It also meant you saw how people read your writing without you piping up saying “Oh by the way, this bit means XYZ.” The work I took was my main WIP, a YA story set in 1816 about a young girl called Emma, and although I’ve had some very good and kind friends read it and be honest about it, it’s a different experience getting that completely unbiased opinion and actually sneaking a look at how people react when they’re reading it. I was so pleased – I kept hearing little chuckles and I heard at least 3 people (there were only 9 of us there) say they’d want to read the whole book. In the discussion people “got” how I wanted Emma to come across and the little hints as to what was to come. I even got compared, for the humour, to a prolific published YA author which gave me the most amazing boost.

All in all I went home floating on air. It gave me the motivation I needed to really push through and get that first draft finished, and encouraged me no end. I cannot stress enough how grateful I am to the friends I keep pestering to read my work; both them and my experience last night convince me that I might just get somewhere one day.

I know most people reading this are already writing and have probably had similar experiences already, but if by any chance you’re a new writer who is serious about wanting to improve, PLEASE be brave and ask for feedback on your work. Reviews and critiques and that fresh pair of eyes are what make you grow. On the flip side, leave reviews for books you have read as those authors, I imagine, never tire of hearing what someone thought of a piece of work they have put all their energy and talent into.

I said at the beginning that I would have expected myself to not dare put work out for review. Actually, a couple of years ago I didn’t. I maybe asked my husband for an opinion but that would have been the limit. The first time I did dare ask someone else, they were so helpful it encouraged me to do more and more. Lesson to self? People want to help. Let them.

UPDATE: As Kirsty points out in the comments, Emma actually took over my blog back at the start of the year. If you fancy having a read, here it is!

8 thoughts on “Reviewing the Situation”

  1. well done on the positive feedback, its always good to get a bit of good and bad but as long as its constructive criticism, where its more about what can be improved instead of what is really bad. Although I am normally the one who also hides their work in a corner due to the lack of confidence in whatever it may be.

  2. Yes as long as it’s constructive it’s invaluable to get feedback. And in my (limited) experience, almost all fellow writers want to help and be constructive. And go, get that work out – even just to one trusted fellow writer! I have huge confidence issues and being brave just for the first time is the only way to get past them 🙂

    Thanks for commenting 🙂

  3. What a wonderful evening. I am so glad you came away with such a positive experience and maybe believeing what we’ve all been telling you for months!

    Seriously though, when some people ask for feedback they only want to be told, “Darling, you were wonderful”. I agree with you; without feedback it is often hard to see where we are going ‘wrong’ (and yes, I know that it’s all subjective, but sometimes it is just wrong) and I, like you, want to know where that is so I can improve. I have a wonderful Beta reader in Jacky Fowler. She picks up my writing ‘tics’ and tells me when I talk gibberish. It happens a lot. But I have been burned by offering asked for constructive feedback in the past only to be treated abysmally afterwards. The people who *really* want feedback are the ones who want to be better writers. The others think they are already as good as it gets.

    And you, my dear, are a fine writer who is getting better all the time. So thrilled for your boost last night.

  4. Congrats on being brave and putting your work out there.
    Is Emma your blog takeover character from January? I liked her, sassy she was (get me I sound like Yoda now).

  5. I’ve been a member of various critique groups for a couple of years now and as you say there is nothing like it. The first group I was a member of was really transient. There were a couple of stable people, but otherwise different people each week. When I started a longer piece I felt I really needed a stable group so I joined SCBWI. It was the best thing I ever did. I learnt so much with that group, and in a way that I don’t think I could have had I been attending a creative writing class. Now I’m interested in Emma’s first words too!

  6. Thank you so much! Hopefully you know how grateful I am for your feedback! Although, obviously, I AM as good as it gets… 😉

  7. Thanks! Yes, that’s Emma, I’d forgotten about the blog takeover. I’ll link that in the post! I’m so glad you thought she was sassy, that’s what I was going for; although it was rightly pointed out last night that I need to take care that she is not anachronistic. 😉

  8. Hello! Missing you on Twitter! 🙂 Thanks for commenting; I’m really looking forward to joining SCBWI. I think I’ll get a lot out of it – even if I get nowhere with Undiscovered Voices lol!

    Oh, and Emma’s first words? “I am in disgrace again.” Says it all about her, really…

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