Over the past couple of days, I’ve been exchanging emails with various people who want me to change my work. Oh, it sounds bad when you put it like that – and I think that puts a lot of people off of letting others see their work – but it’s really not. In fact, I’ve had a lot of constructive critique pointed my way of late, from being advised to rewrite my CV to suggestions about my fiction writing.
My novel, as I’ve mentioned, is in the beta stages at the moment, which means a few different people are currently reading it to see if it’s enjoyable and check it makes sense to someone who doesn’t have the whole story laid out in her head. Yesterday one of those betas returned his feedback, which was exactly what I’d hoped to get out of the process (which I’ve never gone through for something as big as this before). The important thing when beta reading something is to be constructive – for example, a good beta might highlight a sentence and add a note ‘it’s a bit unclear who’s speaking on the first read-through’ or ‘this phrasing doesn’t quite sound right, perhaps change the word order’ – it doesn’t sound so much like a punch in the gut then (and the more crit you get, the better you become at not taking it personally). Something like ‘I don’t like it’ or ‘it drags on a bit’ with no further explanation can feel a lot less useful and more hurtful. I was extremely lucky in that my first real beta for this story has been a total star about it. And also in that I don’t have to rewrite huge chunks of plot at this point, which might well have killed me.
I’ve also just had edit notes back for the anthology I’m writing for (I’m still keeping you in suspense) and those were mostly to do with the formatting of paragraphs and a couple of slightly clunky-sounding phrases – plus some exciting contract-related stuff. OK, I may be the only person in the world who finds contracts exciting, but when it’s to do with writing they make me feel like I’m really doing something a) professional and b) valued by the person I’m entering into a contract with. Again, it’s great to have another person (or people) who will look over your work and tell you how to improve it. After all, isn’t that every author’s real ambition – to create better and better writing and give your readers the best end product you can? In this case, since I’m getting feedback from the organiser of the anthology, I don’t have to worry about whether I’m being led in a different direction to what a publisher might want – this is how to make my submission fit in with the rest and make it the best possible piece for that particular collection. You can’t get that exactly right on your own!
As for the CV, that’s a case of adapting it for different audiences – and that’s good practice for writing, as well. In the past, when I’ve been asked to change my CV, I’ve been a little hurt. I’ve even been upset about being asked to ‘kill my darlings’ such as my favourite (albeit somewhat irrelevant) achievements from high school. This time, though, I was just eager to get my CV to the highest possible standard, and I think that’s come from getting used to being edited and beta’d.
So, in conclusion – to those who are nervously considering letting someone else see their work for the first time… do it. It might sting at first, but you’ll grow in skill and confidence as your writing develops. You can always choose to disregard something you really aren’t comfortable with, anyway.
And last, but most importantly… Editors? Betas? You are beautiful, wonderful people and we writers couldn’t do it without you (as many of you know, being writers yourselves). Keep up the good work!