Wednesday, 3 November 2010

How to deal with the review process in writing

Earlier in the year I admitted to my newsletter subscribers that I'd completed a first draft of a novel.

I have to tell you that just admitting this scared the life out of me.  People might call me to account for it!

But I knew I needed outside help with moving on to the next stage so I asked for volunteers to read and give me feedback.  I had one response which I thought was very brave.  I added a few of my friends and ended up with a panel of 6 people.

Over the summer I sent the manuscript out across the country and waited. 

What was I hoping for?  Only one of them was a fellow write; one said she never read critically and the others offered to do their best.

With the manuscript I sent a set of review sheets asking for feeback on specific points; character development, believability, story progression.  From working with clients I know it's always easier for people to have something to check against rather than comment without a context.

What result did I have?

Surprisingly good.  Everyone had very pertinent comments to offer.  Some more critical than others.  Ouch - those took me several days to process and evaluate.  But nobody said it was a complete disaster.  People laughed, (in the right places I hope), recognised situations they had experienced and could relate to and in one instance, one volunteer cried.

Then came the tough bit.  I had to change things.  Some were small details, others major structural changes.

Hmm... took a bit of thinking about.  I sat on the fence, very uncomfortable, for almost a month while I let the creative soup bubble and rumble inside.

Then I woke up one day knowing at least where I could start.  And I began with some real enthusaism again to see how I could improve it. 

Progress to date?

I've reworked the first fifty pages, some of which I've now sent for professional critique via Writing East Midllands.  If it doesn't wing back in the next three weeks then I'll know it's gone for critique and I'll have to wait for another two months.

What do I hope from the critique?

I'm not expecting to be told it's a best seller... though wouldn't that be wonderful!   What I want is to find out is how close I am to having a decent draft and synopsis.  Am I really close and with some more application I can have something worthy of submission to an agent?

Or terrible thought but I have to be pragmatic, do I have to go back to the drawing, or writing board and begin again.

Whichever it is, I'd rather know.  That way I can do something about it.  Making assumptions is dangerous in acquairing any skill.  I remember how tough my tuutors were on my business writing course and the amount of time I investted in improving.  But a balanced, fair review procress against defined criteria worked that time for me.

What else did I learn from the process so far?

That I have some wonderful friends who put themselves in the line of fire for me... and we're still friends.
That people will read into your words things that aren't there.  One of my readers enthused about one section because it reflected something she  had done.  So whatever comes out of a writer's head will collide with the reader's experience and create reactions you never intneded.
That I'm a stronger person for giving it a go.  Even if this novel in the end is only for my benefit, then any future ones will be stronger because of it.

And the most important thing I've learned is I now have even more sympathy for the writers I mentor.

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