While I was working in higher education, we would spend time discussing what type of writing feedback to give students on their first draft. What kind of feedback is important? What kind of things do we ignore until a later draft? Or ignore completely?
This ties into my blog post from a couple of years ago about how to give constructive criticism. Too much criticism and the listener shuts down, especially if that feedback isn't relevant yet. So, here are a few steps for asking for writing feedback.
Early on, don't ask for feedback
Just don't. While you're writing your first draft and it's not even close to completion, stay in your own head. If you have a writing group/partner and you're trying to debate a specific question, discuss it with them. It might get a little confusing at first because they haven't read the draft, but I still don't recommend showing them until it is at least somewhat complete. Instead, write whatever you want without the burden of feedback. Don't worry about quality. Just write, and worry about feedback later.
Then, ask for specific feedback
When you're going through your first draft, it is not yet ready to be torn apart. You're in the stage for content changes. The writing will still come later. Give your work to people you trust, and tell them exactly what you're looking for. In this case, how do the characters come across? Does it get boring at any parts? Are there enough clues for the twist ending?
I've seen writers groups start tearing apart a story for sentence structure and the word “very” starting at this stage, and you don't need that. It's not important yet. You're going to rewrite the entire thing anyway so why bother paying attention to the number of adverbs. Tell your readers that you're not looking for that yet. That stage will come, but, for now, you need them to just focus on content.
This is also the stage for the beginnings of a developmental editor (like me!). You'll still need to hand in a polished draft, but a developmental editor, at this point, is just reading and giving you an editorial letter. The smaller stuff will come later. If you're not sure what I mean by developmental editing, check out my blog post about it.
The Feedback Free-for-all
All right. You're on your third or fourth draft. You've done all the massive content changes, and you've started to rewrite sections for writing. Now is when you clean up the adverbs and add action to the dialogue. You're paying attention to sentence structure and whether you're describing your setting enough. So, now is when you hand your work to the writers and readers in your life and say, “Go.”
They are now free to point out whatever comes to mind. The content changes should be done, but you still might get, “This part feels fast or unimportant.” You're also going to get, “You don't need this sentence,” and “You're still using the word ‘very.'” Now, it's fine. Don't stress about the amount of feedback you're getting. Take it one comment at a time. You're ready for it.
Who do you ask for feedback?
You need two types of feedback: writing feedback and reader feedback. The writers in your life will talk about structure and pacing. The readers will talk about whether they got bored or if they couldn't put it down. You need both because both types are important. So, if someone is willing to read your work, but they say, “Oh, but I'm not a writer,” say “Great!” and give them your work.
Keep it limited. Don't offer your book up to anyone who is willing to read it. Be careful about who you ask. If you're writing a thriller, someone who has never read a thriller won't be able to give great feedback. If someone ignored your rules back at the beginning, don't give them your work. Or, if they're in your writing group, ignore most, if not all, of their feedback. Odds are, it won't be helpful.
Do I need to follow all feedback?
No. Never. It is your story. You choose what kind of feedback you want to follow. In fact, if you belong to an amateur writing group, you probably won't want to take all the advice you get. Follow your gut. Take the advice you think works for you, and leave the rest.
That being said, if you're showing your work to a professional editor, they're telling you what, based on their knowledge, needs to happen for the book to be publishable. In that case, listen to them, but feel free to advocate for yourself. You might change their mind. You might not.
Keep in mind that if you want to publish your book, you will eventually need professional feedback, whether it's a developmental editor, a copyeditor or both.
There you are. Now, when it comes to asking for writing feedback, you know what to do and who to ask. If you know you want professional feedback, reach out to me, and learn how I can help!