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I Can See Clearly Now

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

For those who follow me on Twitter, you know that I had my annual eye exam yesterday, at which my eyes were dilated. If you’ve never had this procedure done, it’s where the optometrist puts drops in your eyes that forces your pupils to fully dilate—and stay that way—so they can shine extremely bright lights into your eyes and see to the backs of the eyeballs or something. (Technically, it’s called Dilated Fundus Examination.) Anyway, for about five or six hours after the drops are put in, the eyes stay dilated, making near vision almost impossible, and distance vision a little hazy. In fact, for the first couple of hours, I couldn’t see anything closer than about five feet away. And I always end up with a raging headache from straining to try to focus close up.

Of course, since critiquing has been on my mind, this temporary inability to be able to read anything that wasn’t in about 72-point font if it was arms’-length or closer made me think about how hard it is to see things in our own writing that need to be fixed. We’re too close to it. It’s too easy to overlook glaring errors or areas which could use quite a bit of improvement. So, while yesterday I expounded on the idea that we can’t take every critiquer or contest-judge’s comment as law, today I’m going to follow that up by saying:

It’s very important to have several people read your
manuscript and give feedback on it.

I say several people because if you only have one person giving you feedback, it’s hard to make a judgement on whether or not what they’re saying is their own personal opinion that no one else is going to have a problem with or if it’s something that a majority of people are going to have a problem with. If you have feedback from four or five people and only one of them has a problem with a particular piece of your manuscript, then that gives you a better idea of how to weigh that feedback when it comes time for revisions.

And I’d like to follow that up by giving this piece of advice:

Have at least as many non-writers read your manuscript
as the number of writers you have critiquing it.

Who are you writing your story for? Other writers? Or are you writing it for readers? Sure, other writers are (or at least should be) readers as well. But we’re tainted. We have all those nasty rules running around in our heads. And somewhere, even if it’s just on a subconscious level, we can’t help but think, I wouldn’t have written it that way, which pollutes our ability to just be able to look at the manuscript for what it is: a story first and foremost.

Where can you find these “beta readers”? Look around you! How many people do you know who aren’t writers? Friends at church, acquaintances at work, the girl you see at the coffee shop three times a week who always has a different novel in her hands. (I tend to avoid doing the relative-thing. It’s just weird and uncomfortable for me—what if they don’t like it? Will it come between us if they don’t want to hurt my feelings?) If they aren’t sure how to give you feedback, tell them they can do it one of several ways—they can write a “review” of the manuscript as if they were going to post it on Amazon; if they want to be more in-depth, they can dust off their school-days book-report skills and write a book report on it; or they can keep a “reading journal” while reading through it (can be done with Post-its on a hard-copy or the Comments feature in Word if they’re reading it on the computer) and just write down whatever their reactions are when they have them. It doesn’t have to be difficult. They don’t have to do a line-by-line critique for you—that’s what your critique partners (or copy editors, in my case) are for.

If you’re not a writer but you’re an avid reader who’s friends with writers, offer your services as a beta reader—but be prepared to work. This isn’t one of those “I’m going to say only positive things about it because the person was nice enough to send me a copy” situations. If a writer takes you up on your offer, you have to give them honest, constructive feedback. A good rule of thumb—balance every negative (worded constructively, of course) with a positive. (See this post for examples.)

But this doesn’t just go for writing. There are so many areas of our life in which we could use feedback, but we may be too afraid to ask for it—we don’t want to dread it like that annual appraisal at work. One of the best things that helps people lose weight and keep it off is to have accountability partners. I’ve started an accountability group for writers who are trying to keep up with daily word-count goals. (Interested? E-mail me and I’ll send you the information.)

Whether it’s with writing or weight loss or some other area of our lives in which we’re learning, growing, moving, building, studying, having someone else look over what we’ve done and give us feedback is one of the best ways to improve our skills, our output, our objectivity, our outlook on the task ahead of us.

Who do you have that provides that feedback for you? If you don’t have people who do that for you, what can you do to find some?

  1. Tuesday, March 23, 2010 1:17 am

    I have some great folks in MTCW who have helped a lot like Patrick and Jen and Kristi and Carol (and I could go on and on.). My wife gives honest feedback and I love her for it.

    As for non-writers, I’ve read parts to the staff at my favorite coffee shop and get feedback from them. It’s not much but it’s a start.


  2. Carol Collett permalink
    Tuesday, March 23, 2010 5:10 am

    Hmmm…this is something I have to work on. One difficulty I have with finding a crit partner is that I’m very much a face to face person, though I have worked with crit partners online. I dont’ know any non-writers I would ask to read my story. My sister would, but she would only rave just because she’s my sister.
    Geez, Kaye, you’re giving me lots of projects!


  3. Tuesday, March 23, 2010 11:30 am

    Wow, great point about non writers.

    My problem is I get to anxious for feedback and try to send it out before it is ready. Then I’ve wasted a valuable first read through.

    Then again if I get to far into it I have a harder time letting go of things if the readers all agree that such and such has to go.

    Guess I can’t win but I’m definitely going to find some readers, besides my crit group.


  4. Tuesday, March 23, 2010 11:49 am

    Kaye, thanks for how generous you are to share your tips and knowledge; not just on critiques but each day you give us gifts that we can use in our writing. ……Jo


  5. Tuesday, March 23, 2010 11:59 am

    I’ve had a few readers. Last year, I entered my first chapter in the Genesis with very little reading – a BIG mistake. I did have a writer friend help me with the synopsis (after 10 tries, we started calling it a SINopsis). THIS year? You better believe I had readers. I have a good friend who is also in my writer’s group. She is a good friend, but she was my WRITER friend, first, and we pledged early on to be honest. I’ve read her first chapters, she’s read mine. Her first book comes on in September. 🙂 Believe me, she helped me look for all the components – we ironed out the fact that you CAN use -ing words occasionally, and she also pointed out some areas where I could up the action and conflict, and it made an AMAZING difference. Those changes are what has prompted my (I think) 5th edit.

    And guess who else is clamoring for more chapters of my contemporary romance? My husband . . . I wonder if it’s a case of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em?” LOL


  6. Tuesday, March 23, 2010 7:45 pm

    I’ve enjoyed the last two posts very much, Kaye. My critque group is with Susan Page Davis, Darlene Franklin, and Cynthia Hickey, I’m grateful they took on a rookie like me. I’m workingon a proposal with a few of them. My well read Mom is my non-author beta reader. I gues I should find a few other beta readers, I have a good circle of reading friends that I could ask.


  7. Thursday, March 25, 2010 11:22 am

    I find myself thinking exactly as you said when I’m writing book reviews. Then, I have to step back and think, “What did I like or dislike as a reader?” The answer is different, and what the author deserves.

    Having non-writers read is very important.



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