Tuesday, 19 October 2010

When (and when not) to seek feedback

Saw an interesting post on a writers' forum lately. Author had posted first 76k of her novel for review on a peer review site and after getting some feedback was now completely blocked and unable to continue with the project. She was asking for advice on how to get her mojo back, now that well-meaning critters had told her the plot sucks, the characters are weak etc etc.

I read it with horror because I can't think of anything worse than showing a first draft to anyone. What can it achieve? It isn't your best work so the chances are it isn't going to impress anyone. And what's worse getting an adverse reaction will put the kibosh on your creative muse as effectively a bucket of cold water on a pair of rutting mutts.

I subscribe to the opinion that we have two sides to our character when it comes to creation. The elemental force that comes up with the initial ideas is unconscious, from our dreamy undisciplined mind. When you're banging out the first draft it's that side you're tapping into. It doesn't care about logic or form, it's just raw material. And at that stage you must let it flow, not interfering with the process. Cast a critical eye over its output and you'll send it running for cover never to return. At this point in the process you must believe totally in the world you are creating, in the characters as they appear in your imagination. Start fussing about the details and the river will dry up.

The editing or left-brain side of our nature doesn't come into play until after the first draft is done and put aside for a good few weeks to let the dust settle. This is the heartless bitch (see Edie Tor if you don't believe me) who ruthlessly savages our work. But by this point we have the whole story down so it's just a case of tweaking and reworking. Our creativity won't be stilted because it's done its job. Only after we've exercised our own stringent editor is the book ready to go out into the world to be brutalised by someone else.

So you can see how much damage is done by getting crits too soon. I hope the author learns from her error, assuming she ever gets back to where she was before.


Sophie Playle said...

Hi Sandra. Great post. Well put.

I was thinking, this would make a great topic for an article. If you have some hints and tips about how to go about tapping into those different sides of the brain, while keeping the other side quiet, I think it would make a really good piece.

As you might know, I run 'Inkspill Magazine'. I'm currently putting the third issue together, and seem to have a lack of articles to go in it. If you'd like to have a crack at expanding this topic to about 750-1000 words, I'd love to read it!

More details at www.inkspillmagazine.com

Email: submissions@inkspillmagazine.com

Sandra Patterson said...

Ooh, thanks for the compliment, Sophie. I'll see what I can do.

Kate said...

I'm intrigued that she posted so much of it for critique - 76k is almost a whole novel - maybe even is a whole novel.

Very often all you need at the early stages is critique of the first chapter. The problems the critiquers highlight can usually be applied to the rest of it.