Your book has to be as good as it can be. Write it, rewrite it, sit on it, rewrite it, seek ‘good muscular feedback from a writers group,’ or buy in constructive criticism from the ‘one or two excellent writers’ consultancies.’ After all, she adds: “You don’t get two shots at ‘no’.”

From Festival Chronicle’s report on the talk by the late Carole Blake, literary agent, at Swindon Festival of Literature.

Sending work

  • Please do give the group some indication of the feedback you’d like (eg plot, structure, character, writing style, scene setting, coherence, dialogue, rhythm, effect); what you intend to do with it; the stage it is at. This helps people tailor their critique, eg if it’s a first draft we might concentrate on ideas and characterisation whereas a final draft might appreciate sentence structure, grammar, individual metaphor, etc. Or you can say ‘anything’! 🙂
  • Please do send any stage of writing although, if it’s a very rough first draft, read it through a few more times so you can amend the obvious things.
  • If you are writing a book, novel or play, if possible, start by submitting the first chapter/act/scene. If you are not submitting a first chapter, please include a few explanatory lines of main plot, characters etc of previous chapters and attach your work so far if possible.

Critiquing work

Critiquing other work is as valuable as receiving feedback on your own work as it helps you to understand the craft of writing.

  • Please do allow enough time to read work through (at least) twice. Once is for fun; twice begins to allow proper understanding of strengths and weaknesses.
  • Please be honest, but kindly.
  • Please say what you liked about the piece as well as what doesn’t work for you.
  • Try not to offer solutions unless pressed for examples – don’t muddy the valid issues you have raised with saying how you would write it, it’s not your work.
  • Please respect the writer and be sensitive – if it seems like they’ve had enough critiquing, cut short your critique or stick to one point rather than six. There may be lots for new writers/new work to improve but it can’t all be considered in one go, and – however benignly intended – feedback can be mentally and physically exhausting.
  • Remember it’s their work – so if they reject your advice, it’s their decision and should be respected. In any case, people often need time to reflect on challenging feedback.

Receiving criticism

This is a skill in itself, and like any skill, expect it to take practice! Good critique is scary, challenging and tiring – but worth it.

  • Remember that members have taken the time to read and think about your work and attend the meeting to talk about it, as a favour to you and in the hope you will do the same for them (sorry if this sounds like your mum, but it’s really easy to forget this!).
  • Listen respectfully to feedback. Resist the urge to argue, defend or explain your piece. Instead quiz the critiquer as to why they felt how they did, so you can better understand their point. Failing that, stick to a simple ‘thanks’ and bite your tongue. If you argue or disagree with every point raised, then members will give up offering any criticism.
  • If your brain is full, please do say thanks for the feedback, and that’s enough for you to work on today. Don’t be frightened to cut short feedback if you’ve had enough.
  • Give yourself time after the meeting to reflect on feedback and if/how you can incorporate it into your work. You don’t have to make a decision at the meeting on which feedback is valid and which isn’t. Reflection can sometimes be a long process; other times it can be a lightbulb moment. Sometimes feedback can be a reaction of someone who has entirely different reading/writing tastes and styles to you and you have to consider whether it’s relevant.

Written by Louisa Davison, 11.11.17

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