Confessions of a Feedback Junkie
by Sara Codair Views: 583
Feedback. We all need it to become better writers, but the task of getting it can be daunting. Who do you ask? Friends? Family? Other writers?
It’s terrifying to let someone look at a work you’ve poured your heart and soul into with the expectation that they’re going to point out flaws, but it can also be an addicting need for validation.
If, like me, you’ve lived as fiction characters in alternate worlds, you now need someone to confirm their existence and tell you how to make them better. This is where feedback comes in.
WHO TO ASK FOR FEEDBACK
Individuals alone can’t keep up with my need for feedback, whether they be close family, who often go too easy anyway, or my witty husband, who is often my harshest critic, so I joined a critique group. Well, actually, I joined three. One meets in person. The second is hybrid online/in-person. The third is a “members only” forum on Yuku where people post stories and get comments. It’s enough for me to get most stories read before submitting them to publications.
Some literary magazines can be great for feedback fixes. I do my best to polish the piece and have it read by one of my critique groups first so the publication doesn’t think I’m using it as a critique service. My goal is always to get published, but I know the odds are against me.
Since many publications accept less than 5% of the work they receive, I look for places that offers feedback. Blue Monday Review’s “Express Lane with Feedback” option costs $8, but the detailed response is worth it. Bartleby Snopes offers a shorter critique at no extra charge. Ember Journal and Freeze Frame Fiction both quote reader comments in their rejection letters, and Jellyfish Review will mention a few positives about the story before rejecting it.
Mash Club has done a fantastic job satiating my cravings for criticism. The three-page feedback reports have become central to my flash fiction revision process.
When Mash Club, literary magazines, and critique groups STILL aren’t enough, I take free writing MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses, in case this acronym hasn’t crossed your radar yet). My favourite was How Writers Write Fiction, hosted by the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. They had structured prompts, weekly peer reviews, and a “sandbox” where I could post other works in progress.
HOW TO SCORE FEEDBACK FROM STRANGERS
The secret to getting good feedback is networking. There are lots of writers, equally desperate and terrified of having their work read. After taking How Writers Write Fiction, I was able to exchange novel drafts with a woman from Argentina. Other people I had networked with invited me to join their online critique group.
My friends call me crazy and obsessive, but my writing has improved exponentially. After implementing feedback from a Mash report, my story, “Costume Connection,” was accepted by Centum Press for their 100 Voices anthology, which will be published in August. By keeping Mash comments in mind while writing other stories, my flash fiction has been accepted by Foliate Oak, 101words.org and 101 Ficton.
HOW TO USE THE FEEDBACK
Feedback not only helps you with the story it’s for, but makes you a better writer overall. If you accept feedback, you need to know why it will make the story better because it is your creation and you know it better than anyone else. Here is my strategy for doing so:
- Paste all the comments into a document with the story. The feedback stays on the top and the story on the bottom.
- Read through all the text without stopping or annotating.
- Pace around the house, clean, or do dishes. Anything to keep moving so the brain can think.
- Wait for the acid of ideas to eat at attachment to the draft and resistance to feedback. Carefully reread all the suggestions. Highlight the ones that have merit in green, often moving back and forth between the comments and the document, making notes about how feedback can be incorporated into different places before making changes.
- Let it rest for at least one day, but not longer than a week.
- Once everything is thoroughly marinated, review the highlighted comments and notes.
- Save as a new file.
- Dive into revision, and try to finish in one sitting.
- Let the story rest for a few more days, reread it, make more changes, let it rest again, and finally, do a line edit.
- The draft is ready to submit.
Sometimes I get an acceptance at this stage. If not, it’s possible that I’ll repeat this process multiple times. Getting feedback and using it for revision is one of many steps in the writing process. For me, it is the second most important. I say second, because without a first draft, you have nothing to revise.
This feedback/revisions process has gotten me results. I am learning to trust it, and you should too. I still get a lot of rejections (over 100): it’s part of being a writer. However, I know that if I stick with it, eventually, I will find homes for my stories.
If you’re struggling to get published and feel your process isn’t working, revise it. Once you get something that feels right and shows results, trust it. A great process will yield a great product.
Sara has been writing fiction since she was in the first grade. One of her earliest works was in a journal she was required to keep for school. It was supposed to be about real things, so her teacher was not very happy to read about a boy who put on a cape, jumped off of a garage, and flew.
Now, Sara teaches writing at Northern Essex Community College. When she is not teaching or grading papers, she enjoys reading and writing Young Adult Fantasy and Flash Fiction. She is in the process of revising her novel.
She recently won 2nd place in the Women on Writing Flash Fiction Contest. Her fiction has appeared in or is forthcoming several online publications such as 101Fiction, Foliate Oak, Sick Lit Magazine, Fantasy Crossing and Mash Stories. You can find her online at saracodair.com