This fall was a very intense writing time for me, as I took my third book (wow!) from a first draft to the version I submitted to my editor. Before the end of the month, I’ll finalize it and it’ll go off to copyediting, to become a Real Book. My editor and my agent are absolutely key to my writing process, but so are a handful of other trusted readers. Some writers work best in isolation; I’m not one of them. I need to focus alone on producing that first draft, but once I have it, feedback is crucial to my ability to make each book the best it can be. This fall I asked half a dozen crucial readers for feedback, and every one came through.
Every writer has to decide for herself what level of feedback to ask for and whom to get it from. Once you have that feedback, you have to decide what to do with it. Lots of great writers have talked about that process (you have a copy of Author in Progress, right?) so I want to take a slightly different angle today.
The feedback you don’t get can be just as important as the feedback you do.
When I finished my first draft in September, I felt happy and relieved and all that; what I didn’t feel was satisfied. I didn’t feel like I had a book. I couldn’t put my finger on why. Was it because this was the first book I’d written in years without a critique group? Were the characters thinly drawn, the plot unbelievable? Was the book actually — gulp — no good?
I needed help, and I reached out for it.
My first round of readers told me a few key things. One zeroed in on the lack of historical detail, a hallmark of my books — that was missing, she said. Another questioned a couple of character issues, places where they said or did things that didn’t entirely track.
Instantly it began to feel like a real book to me, and not just because of what they’d said, but also because of what they hadn’t said. [Read more…]