Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Beware of writing’s “X Factor”

Some good advice comes to us today from KB Walker, author of Once Removed.

Beware of writing’s “X Factor”

If you’ve ever watched X Factor, in the audition stages, you’ll have seen how many people have only shared their talent with loved ones wearing rose-tinted spectacles and seriously modified hearing aids (there are lots of cringe-making videos on YouTube, if you’ve missed out).

You may also have noticed the huge numbers of people who turn up for these auditions. Your manuscript will be up against similar numbers, if you want it published. Even if you decide to self-publish, your work must be polished to perfection or people won’t buy it. It’s vital to get critical feedback. Even bestselling authors have trusted readers who read drafts before they are submitted for publication. Writing a novel takes time and you are too close to it to see it objectively.

Don’t think that publishers will fall in love with your creativity and your brilliant idea and sort out the problems for you. It won’t happen. Just like the judges on X Factor, they don’t have the time or resources to bring your work up to a professional standard, beyond a light, final polish. And they don’t need to. There are plenty of authors out there prepared to ensure their work is properly presented.

Internet forums can be a good place to seek feedback because you have to review other people’s work in order to have your own reviewed. Looking critically at a piece of writing forces you to think about what does or doesn’t work and why. Reviews by people who don’t know you are likely to be more honest than those of friends. But beware; these forums can be addictive and time consuming.

Actual writers’ groups are also great. Having the opportunity to read your work aloud and receive praise and encouragement will boost your confidence. For novelists, particularly, it’s useful to be part of a small group of trusted people who will read your work and give detailed feedback. This provides more than one person’s opinion so you can weigh up whether to accept a point as valid or not ~ as the artist, you have final say. But if more than one person picks up the same point, it may be prudent to take it seriously.

If there isn’t a local group, start one. Libraries are often eager to help with this and will host them, too. Some pubs will let groups use their spare rooms, as long as everyone buys a drink. Many groups meet in people’s homes.

Do receive feedback graciously and try not to take it personally. If you’ve ever painted, you’ll appreciate that the finished product is never exactly as you want it to be. Even the world’s best painters sketch and sketch and often paint and paint the same scene until it’s close to what they want. Writers paint with words. I once read in an acknowledgements page a thank you to the people who’d helped the author write the book he wanted to write.

Remember, as with any art form, opinions of your writing will be subjective. But if you are writing for an audience you have to find out what they like/don’t like or they won’t read it or, crucially, tell their friends about it.

I’ve belonged to four different reading groups. The members were of similar ages, socio-economic groups and mostly the same gender and we seldom liked the same books and never agreed on all the aspects of style, presentation, language or story. You won’t be able to please everyone so let that free you from trying. Somewhere between pleasing your intended audience and writing the book you want to write is the fine line you’re aiming for.

 Find out more about Kimm on her blog:


Critique Service for Writers
Flash 500 Flash Fiction Competition
Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition


Cathie Dunn said...

Sound advice, Kim. It is true that family & friends are too polite, too aware not to hurt your feelings. Having 'strangers' critique your book is the very useful, and even necessary to gauge a reader's impression.

Often, they also help with suggestions if you're stuck or need to try different plot options.

I couldn't have done it without my critique partners - they keep me on my toes.

Fab post! :-)

Kimm Walker said...

Thanks, Cathy.

CarolOates said...

Great advice. I agree, some distance is important during revision and editing. My small group of critique partners are brutal with me, but I prefer it that way. It helps me present the best work I can in the final product.

Nancy Jardine said...

Wish getting a critique partner was a simple job. I started off on my writing career a couple of years ago thinking I could manage to 'go it alone'. Now I know the value of finding a good CP who will be the correct person for my writing. I'm actively looking for the correct volunteer as I type this!