Posted by: Phil Anderson | March 2, 2014

Feedback Loop

I like to work alone. I need peace and quiet to collect and organize my thoughts before I write them down. Most of my best writing is done after the kids are in bed.

I also don’t often seek advice about my fiction. I have more ideas than I have time to write them down, and my thoughts and plans make it hard to take suggestions from people who aren’t up-to-speed on the whole picture.

But one place I do need help is in the revision process. When the first or second draft of a story is done, I need to make sure it actually says what I want it to say and not just what I think it says. I know the ins and outs of my story and my characters and their motivations, so everything seems clear to me, but is it also clear to someone who only knows what’s written on the page?

What I don’t want is someone who will read it and say, “I like it.” That doesn’t help me. As difficult as it is, I need constructive criticism. I need someone to tell me specifically what’s wrong so I can fix it.

Most of the time, my first reader is my wife. She’s a professional editor (though not in my genre) and is very good at what she does. She understands story structure, style, plot, and pacing, and has a good eye for detail. Her feedback is insightful and almost always helpful. She says I’m hard to criticize, though, because I make excuses for the problems she points out. That’s one difficulty of being too close: I just want to explain to her why I made the choices I did. In the end she’s right, because I won’t be there in person to clarify for everyone who reads my work; if it’s not on the page it doesn’t count. It’s best to get feedback in writing, even if it’s just notes and comments right on the manuscript. Then I can consider and act on them without feeling the need to respond and defend myself.

So far my other readers are my children. They are avid fans of the genre I enjoy writing, so I get good comparisons to other contemporary work. But they’re not as clear and concise in their criticism. “It’s good except for this part that I didn’t understand.” It’s hard to know what to do with a comment like that.

So I’m willing to try an experiment and possibly expand my test readership. If you enjoy YA fantasy and would like to attempt a manuscript review, if you think you can provide constructive criticism that is specific and actionable, leave a message below to that effect. You can also e-mail I’ll send you a draft of a short story I’ve been working on, and we’ll see if you can help make it better.


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