Every writer gets to a point in their writing process when they need a second set of eyes on the piece. Whether you’re a novelist, a screenwriter or a short story writer, it’s always a good idea to get an outsiders perspective on things. You never know, it might just be the making of it.
There are a number of writers out there who don’t take kindly to feedback – constructive or otherwise – because they’re precious, insecure or simply because they feel that they know best. But as we all know, nothing goes to print without an editor getting their hands on it first, so you might as well seek out a second, third or fourth opinion before it gets to that point.
There’s a difference between getting feedback from another writer, or a friend who is well-read and knows their stuff, and giving your novel to your mum to read. You know that Mummykins is going to give you a big hug and say “Oh honey, that’s fantastic!” even if what she really thought was that is resembled the ramblings of one of John Doe’s notebooks. If you’re not prepared to get the right eyes on the piece before your editor does, don’t bother at all. But it’s your loss.
Here are a handful of reasons why getting pre-editor feedback as an indie author is a vitally important part of the process:
#1 – The discovery of hidden gems
I was listening to an interview with screenwriter Shane Black the other day, and he talked about the moment that you figure something out in your story that makes it so much better, and you go back and fix it and suddenly you look like a genius. Nobody has to know that it took you two years to crack it.
One of the many benefits of getting feedback on your story before it hits your editor is that they can sometimes unearth something magical that was right under your nose but you were too invested in making sure everything made sense and led to a logical conclusion to see it. If you are picking the right people to read your work, they’ll pick up on these because they’re looking at it from a story point of view, not as a writer, editor and publisher.
It could be anything from a tiny character detail that evokes a stronger reaction from the reader, or a set up that makes the pay-off later in the story have much more impact when it comes. And when it happens, you’ll feel stupid for a few seconds, before thanking whoever suggested it.
#2 – Unearthing problems with plot, dialogue, characters, etc.
Most writers will bash out the first few drafts and then hand it over to a close circle of friends whose opinion they respect and who will point out any glaring issues with plot, character, dialogue or logic in the story. Without this initial nudge, you could find yourself sending your manuscript over to your editor with a false sense of security, only to be hit with the “Erm… You do realise that the entire second half of the novel makes no sense because of [Insert cock-up here]” response from your editor. Better to learn about it in the early drafting stages and work at it during that process than after an editorial gut-punch of epic proportions.
#3 – Mixed reactions to key moments
During university, I was lucky enough to have a Community-style group of friends who were also studying Creative Writing. We’d take a look at each other’s first drafts and give early feedback, and it was a big help. It was especially great because we all had a different sensibility, and our tastes were varied. It meant that if everybody concurred on a certain point (good or bad), you felt like you were on the right track. But what also made it interesting was when you received a mixed reaction to key moments. That’s when you really have to be honest with yourself and ask why it hasn’t come across. As Paul Thomas Anderson says, “If there’s a problem it usually starts with the writing.”
#4 – The pure unadulterated joy of being told you’re awesome
There’s nothing better than the feeling that you’re on the right track, and the best way to convince yourself of this is to receive glowing reviews from the initial readers. It’s too easy to tap away at your writing desk thinking you’re writing a masterpiece, and then slowly but surely the seeds of self-doubt start to creep in and you start second-guessing yourself.
Whether it’s during the first draft or just before you send it out to an editor, get your work out to reliable folks who will give an honest opinion of the work. They’ll help steer the ship in the right direction, and give your writerly ego a massive kiss on the backside ready for the next phase in your writing. Happy writers are better writers, after all.