It can be nerve wracking to get feedback on something you’ve spent weeks, or years, working on, but getting feedback on your writing can be invaluable. Here are some tips to help make the process easier:
1. Pick the right people for the story. Only ask people whose opinions you respect and who read the genre or subject matter that you’ve written about.
2. Have at least one cheerleader. Their job is to point out all the good things about the story. You’ve worked hard, created something new, and it’s good to celebrate that!
3. Set a reasonable timeline for receiving feedback and ask if your readers can commit to the timeline before agreeing to read.
4. If you have a preference for the type of critique, ask for it. Do you want comments on every chapter or a close line by line read? Do you want readers to focus on the overall plot or point out all your grammatical sins? Setting expectations saves time for everyone involved.
5. Remember, any feedback you received is not personal. No story is ever perfect, even if it has gone through multiple rounds of feedback. Your readers are trying to help you make your stories better and graciously donating their time to do so.
A great way to thank your readers is to return the favor. Or better yet, earn good karma by volunteering to read without expecting anything in return. Someday it will come back to you in one way or another.
Nikki Broadwell is the author of Wolfmoon Trilogy, a fantasy that takes place in the ‘Otherworld’ (somewhere in Scotland). Before the writing bug took her over, she was a silk-painting artist, showing her work in several galleries in Portland, Oregon. Now she allows her characters full-rein, obediently following them down the twisting paths of her imagination. Currently she is working on a sequel to Wolf Moon, finding herself unable to let go of the personalities who have circled her desk for the past six or seven years.
Nikki now lives in Tucson, Arizona with her husband, a standard poodle and a cat.
Her writing blog is: http://niksblog-authorinprogress.blogspot.com/
Her books, The Moonstone and Saille, the Willow are available on Amazon, Smashwords, and Kobo and The Wolf Moon will be out in mid to late March. For more information please visit her website: www.wolfmoontrilogy.com
I’ve been thinking recently about the topics of rape and sex in writing. Someone on Facebook made the comment that she would never read a book in which there was a rape, which started the wheels turning. Rape is included in one of my books and although it’s back-story it’s still powerful. To me its inclusion gives more fullness to the character and speaks to her future actions. Any time a writer tackles these difficult subjects it can turn certain people off, but should you ignore this darker side of life?
I do not shy away from these topics, although where sex is concerned I try to tone it down since so far it has not been the main gist of my story. But instead of having my characters kiss and then head into the bedroom and close the door I try to use metaphor and a few understated clues as to what is going on. When I read a book I’m always annoyed when the author skips these details.
With the recent popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, a badly written book based on Twilight fan fiction, it’s obvious that readers enjoy being titillated. In my opinion, if we are writing a serious story, too much detail in these areas could potentially take away from the narrative.
How do you tackle these subjects in your own work? Do you tend to close the door or do you bring your reader into the bedroom?
Writing is her passion and her profession, novels specifically, short stories occasionally, and always with lesbian characters.
She writes under the pseudonym ‘Widdershins’ because she is, if nothing else, contrariwise.
She blogs about all things Widdershins-and-writerly, at Widdershins Worlds, and can be contacted through the links on her ‘About me’ page.
Her Great Canadian Lesbian Science Fiction Novel, ‘Mortal Instinct’ (the first book of the ‘Gallery’ Series) is available as a eBook from her publisher, (in all sorts of eBook formats) in eBook and paperback from Amazon, and of course, from your favourite neighbourhood bookstore.
There are so many things to learn when we begin walking this writer-ly path.
There’s basic grammar, not just what we think is right, but what actually works. There’s pace and plot, infodump and character development, editing and rewriting, first drafts and revisions, etc, etc.
Each of these things has it’s own set of rules. Rules we need to know in order to break, or to not break, as the mood takes us.
Then it’s time to actually tell the story. Which, surprise, surprise, has a set of rules and truisms, all it’s own, handed down from generation to generation.
The most famous of these is ‘write what you know’. Which is about doing research, then incorporating that into the story. Otherwise, how could we write a story about a place we’ve never seen?
But, sometimes, we just have to be there.
I live on an island in the middle of a lake, in British Columbia, Canada. Before that I lived on the east coast Australia; where temperatures peak well above 40°C (104°F) plus every summer.
When I moved to Canada I saw snow, meters deep, for the first time. Until then I believed it was some kind of fairy tale, like moose, and raccoons, and bears.
This winter our lake froze.
For someone who’s experience of monochromatic landscapes had been drought baked deserts or bushfire blackened plains, the sight of an entire frozen lake took my breath away.
Cold radiating from a lake covered in ice is different than the cold from a hillside covered in snow. I know the difference, and now I can describe it.
I have a story brewing that revolves around this bit of information. Information I could’ve read about, or watched a video on, or even listened to someone tell me about. But, I wouldn’t’ve known the truth of it, what it felt like, if I hadn’t experienced it.
Sometimes you have to be there.
Rahima Warren is the author of Dark Innocence, Book One of The Star-Seer’s Prophecy. She is a life-long lover of fantasy and sci fi, and always wondered how writers came up with these wonderful stories, never thinking she might become one of them. For 20 years, she was a licensed psychotherapist, but in 2000, a character named Kyr took over her life and insisted she write his story. After three years of free-fall writing, she found that she had written a trilogy, and that it deserved to be revised, edited and published. Book One: Dark Innocence was published by Rose Press in 2011. She’s currently editing Book Two: Difficult Blessings, while Book Three: Dangerous Bliss awaits revision. For more information, or to read her blog, Inner Views, please visit www.starseersprophecy.com
Do you enjoy outlining and planning your stories before you write? That’s a wonderful talent, and might save me a lot of time, if I could do it. But perhaps you are more like me, and feel imprisoned by outlines? If so, here are my tips for what I call free-fall writing. When writing a first draft, just jump out of that airplane and see where the winds of creative passion take you.
Let the story flood out, unhindered by thoughts of “should” or “That’s not how it’s done,” or “I don’t dare!” or, most poisonous of all, “That’s no good.” Just write. No editing. Don’t think about where it’s going. Just let the story evolve onto paper as it will. It can be quite surprising when you let the story go where it wants to.
Write just for you and your main character(s). Let them come to life, breathe, and take you on their journey. It’s their story, after all, not yours. What’s important is to be loyal to the story, to the characters, and write because you love them and want to help them live out their adventures. Personally, if I wrote with others in mind (audience, publishers, critics), my passion and joy in writing would freeze up fast.
Don’t worry. You can revise as and edit as much as you want later on. For the first draft, at least, just trust, let yourself free-fall, and enjoy the creative flow.
Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist and novelist. She writes for several magazines and ezines and serves as editor for Europa SF, a site dedicated to the European science fiction community. Nina teaches writing online and coaches writers. Her writing guides The Fiction Writer and The Journal Writer were published in North America and abroad. You can find Nina at www.ninamunteanu.com and her new series of ebooks on writing craft on Amazon.com.
The artistic process, whether painting or prose, is admittedly the child of self-expression. The long-standing image of the cloistered artist in her studio — hunched over her writing desk or standing before her canvas to create from the depths of her soul — is surely a truism. Artists create from the heart; we dive deep inside our often tortured souls and closeted past to draw out the universal metaphors that speak to humanity and share—
Ay, there’s the rub. For to share is to have a dialogue and to have a meaningful dialogue is to demonstrate consideration of the other. Somewhere in that journey that began with self, others entered. It is, in fact, something of a paradox and a conundrum for many artists. One that has challenged the artistic community for centuries. It is also why many artists have relied on agents, benefactors, and advocates to effectively communicate, target — and even interpret — their often abstruse “message” to their appropriate audiences.
Purists will tell you that a true artist need not consider her audience; because her self-expression naturally finds relevance with the culture and zeitgeist from which she writes through universally understood metaphor: her story is their story.
But is that enough?
I suppose it finally comes back to whether you are interested in sharing. I don’t know any published authors who don’t wish their books to sell. Every storyteller needs an audience to connect with and engage. That is ultimately what good storytelling does: engage, connect, rouse emotions and evoke empathic feelings. Make an impact.
Does identifying and targeting a specific audience result in more satisfied readers and ultimately better sales? Of course it does. The more you—and whoever is helping you market your work—know about your audience, the more likely you are going to attract them to your book, convince them to buy it and ultimately connect with them. That’s the irony of art: it is a treasure that is created out of the depths of solitude but ultimately brought into the light and shared with the world. For your art to have impact, you must know and understand your world.
Knowing your audience will affect every aspect of your book project. It will help determine:
- What your story is about and how you write it (from language, voice or personality, narrative style, tone or mood/attitude, characters, setting and theme)
- What genre it lies under
- the look and tone of the cover and blurb
- all aspects of promotion
For instance, who are your intended readers? To what age group do they belong? What culture and sub-culture? What gender(s)? What education and intellectual capacity? Economic status? What regions? What political leanings? Prejudices and beliefs? What knowledge-base?
To know your audience is to know your story better.
Many of you know Canadian author and editor Julie E. Czerneda as the former biologist turned science fiction novelist published by DAW Books NY. You may have read her Clan Chronicles series, or be a fan of Mac or Esen from her other work. Maybe you’ve heard she’s an editor. Also true. This spring, however, prepare to meet the Julie you don’t know. After three years of (scary) work, she’s letting out her whimsical side with the release of her first fantasy novel, A Turn of Light. The setting, Marrowdell, is based on pioneer settlements in Ontario. There are toads. And dragons. The magic? All her own. For more about Julie’s work, including the chance to read Turn in installments, please visit www.czerneda.com.
It’s an honour to be asked to contribute to Clarion. While I’ve never been a participant, I know many writers who have. They speak highly of the experience. I think highly of them for seeking it out, for being committed to the craft and for being brave. Like you.
Brave? Oh yes. I’ve written before about a writer’s courage. It takes vast amounts to lock our dreams and fantasies into a string of words to be handed to strangers who will — how we hope!– unlock them into their own. When that courage fails us, the work becomes more than difficult, it can seem impossible. Talking to a trusted someone can help, but we’re often alone. What to do?
When I feel mine slipping, the first trick I use is to step away. Literally. I garden or go for a walk. I stay out of my office however long it takes to regain perspective and settle myself. Fifteen minutes. A weekend. It’s worth the time invested.
Which isn’t a trick I can use at 2 am when my sleepless mind spirals down that scary path of “what am I doing” “wouldn’t a salary be nice” and “this is crap.” What then?
I remind myself why. Each story has something special in it. A character. A relationship. A moment or place. Something I love so much it hurts. Instead of being afraid I can’t do it justice with words, I lie there and just enjoy it as it is, in my head. Forget the process. Dream.
It makes me braver, every time.
J.R. Johnson is a writer, cook, archer, social scientist, and unlicensed librarian. She finds fantasy and science fiction appealing because she likes the idea that there is more to the world than meets the eye, and that the human race has a future. She now lives in Ottawa, Ontario and on the web at jrjohnson.me.
One terrific part of being a writer is the opportunity to blaze your own path. You get to decide where to go, what to focus on, and how fast or slow you want to travel. That’s an amazing experience, or it can be. But when you are the one breaking trail, how do you know that you’re heading in the right direction?
In the largest sense, most of us don’t “know.” We hope. We plan. We analyze, speculate, triangulate. We consult our inner compass. Then we risk. For writers, one of the biggest risks is that of rejection.
No matter how good you are, writing for others is awash with rejection. That’s ok, that’s part of the package. In fact, I kind of like it. Rejection isn’t my only guide, but it’s a useful one. It lets me know that I’m doing what needs to be done, producing work and sending it out for others to see. It’s both depressing and inspiring by turns. “Look, Ma, I’m a real writer, I’ve got the rejections to prove it!”
In 2012, Neil Gaiman said that he likened his goal to a distant mountain, and would judge decisions based on whether they would take him closer to or farther from that mountain. It’s a great idea and a lovely speech, full of useful stories and funny advice. I watched the video and felt inspired. In fact, I should probably watch it again.
That’s the thing. Blazing your own trail also means adding your own signposts: “Beware of Bad Television,” “No Internal Editors Allowed, Next 2,000 Words,” and “Coffee Break, Next Right.” Feedback from others also helps, I find, as external perspective can be invaluable.
If you’re reading this, you probably know that when you blaze your own trail, internet access is a godsend. As Google will be happy to tell you, you aren’t the first to confront the challenges of rejection, of self-direction, of uncertainty. Thank goodness. I’ve dealt with them. You’ve dealt with them. Famous, thoughtful, and successful people have dealt with them.
At one point in her 2008 speech at Harvard on the benefits of failure, J.K. Rowling said that after hitting rock bottom she was able to use it as a foundation on which to build the rest of her life:
“Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun.… So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential.… Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way.”
I found her realization to be admirably perceptive. Failure, by this light, can help provide a clear view of who you are and what you want to achieve. That sounds damn useful, if not exactly comfortable.
Failure, of which rejection is one form, isn’t something to be avoided at all costs; that’s impossible. It is something to be used. It is the feedback that keeps us going, motivates us, lets us know that we are on the path, and when we are straying from it. The rumble strip of life, if you will.
How do you judge your progress? Whether you’re a full-time accountant with a writing habit or a full-time writer with your own table at the local cafe, how do you know that you’re on the right path?