When is the Right Time To Get Feedback?

Susan DeFCreative Writing, ReflectionsLeave a Comment

when is the right time to get feedback

Those of you who follow me online know that I’ve been working on a short story collection.

Some stories in this collection are older, and some are new, but many of them have never been seen by anyone but me–and this is a project I’d like to send out on submission by the end of the year.

So I knew it was time to seek out qualified feedback.

This year, I’m doing that by working with a mentor of mine, Ariel Gore, in her yearlong alternative MFA program (she calls her “maven of mythmaking” program, which I love).

And the more I get feedback on this work, the more I’m reminded how difficult it is, really, to bring any type of fiction to market WITHOUT that kind of feedback.

(And I say this as a person who provides professional feedback to others–book coaches really do need book coaches, and everyone who writes needs beta readers and critique partners!)

There are folks who seek out this kind of feedback but don’t actually change anything in their work in response to it. Ursula K. Le Guin said of such folks that they were were “singing in the shower”–meaning, they might like to write, but they didn’t care about what it would actually take to publish their work.

Personally, I might enjoy singing in the shower (writing alone), but I’m serious about singing on stage (getting my work published). So I knew it was time to seek out the right mentor and group.

The process has been super invigorating for me, after a period of focused solo work.

But I know from experience that there are times when feedback is most useful in a project–and times when it really is not.

Here are some signs, in my experience, that you’re at the right point in your work-in-progress to get feedback on it:

  • You have a complete draft, and a clear sense of the themes you’re interested in exploring, but are contemplating different options for revision
  • You don’t have a complete draft, but you’re really stuck–something doesn’t seem to be working, and you don’t know why
  • You’re pretty far along in the process, and starting to set your sights on where to submit, but not so far along with the story that you’re married to absolutely every passage, plot point, or theme
  • You need to know whether some critical aspect of the story (e.g., a speculative conceit, a character’s decision or action, a romance) is working

But if you’re still just working through your own ideas for the project? If you know what needs to be done but just haven’t done it yet? Or really feel like everything you have on the page is what you intended it to be?

That’s a time when you really should NOT seek out feedback. Either because the project is still too much in flux, and likely to get thrown off by other peoples’ ideas about it, or because you don’t actually want creative feedback–you just want someone to tell you it’s done.

(They say to a carpenter, everything looks like a nail; to critique partners, editors, and coaches, every manuscript looks like something that can be improved.)

Likewise, there are people whose feedback can be super useful–critical, even–to getting your creative work over the finish line with publication, and people whose feedback can be pointless, or even damaging.

In her book Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead, Tara Mohr talks about the way that many of us who were raised female seek out feedback on our big ideas from all the wrong people–people who really know nothing about our industry or what our target market is looking for.

Instead, Mohr advises us to seek out qualified feedback–people who do know about these things.

And when it comes to fiction, those people are generally not just fellow readers, but fellow writers and publishing professionals.

Here are some questions I ask myself when seeking out qualified feedback on my work:

  • Does this person know how to get me to where I want to be with this project? (Meaning: Have they published work like this, or coached/mentored others who went on to publish work like this?)
  • Does this person read in my genre?
  • Is this person skilled at giving practical, actionable feedback?
  • Do this person’s “people” feel like my people?
  • Does this person share my values?
  • Do others speak highly of working with this person?

If you’ve been on the fence about whether it’s time to get feedback on your work, or who to get it from, I hope this helps to demystify those questions.

And if you’re interested in working with me on your novel, feel free to reach out via my client interest form.

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