Book Reviews, Novel Writing, Random Writing Rants

When it is bad to get feedback on your writing

Stolen A Letter to My Captor by author Lucy Christopher
I recommend this book for any writer who would like to study the art of taking a reader on a journey without the reader knowing where she is going until she arrives.

I have said it before, and I will say it again. I do not believe that you should share the first draft of your novel with anyone – ANYONE — until it is complete. The more I learn, the more I believe this to be true.

I just finished reading Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher. I can’t help but picture myself in a writer’s critique group with the author, bashing her work and ensuring this novel never comes to fruition. I wouldn’t kill her darling for her on purpose. But not being able to read through to the end of her story, there is no way I could possibly understand what she was attempting to do as she wrote this novel.

If I were in a writing workshop with this particular author while she wrote this particular novel, I probably would have grown angry with her. I probably would have said, “How can you glamorize abduction like this? This is so wrong. You can’t write it this way.”

I would probably make her question what she was doing. I may even pressure her to make changes to the piece to make it clear that there is nothing glamorous about being abducted by a handsome stranger and being taken away to a beautiful land. In short, my well-meaning feedback would totally ruin her novel.

As writers, we are often great at getting our point across on the page, but awful at verbally explaining what we are doing. During my thesis semester, I was a complete failure at getting across to my advisor what I was trying to do with my story. I had not written through to the end of my story, so I could not make her see where I was going.

She thought she knew where I was going based on what she had seen on the page thus far. Just as I thought I knew where Lucy Christopher was going with Stolen based on what I read on the pages through most of the book. Little did I know that the author was doing something to me that I could not hope to understand until after I had lived through the entire experience. I could not know where she was taking me until she had gotten me there. And I did not get there until the final pages of the novel.

If I had the chance to workshop Christopher’s manuscript prior to reading through to the end of the story, I am sure I would have mutilated it. I would have said, “What is the deal with writing this in second person? I hate this. Change it.” She may have second-guessed herself and made the changes to try to please the majority of our workshop group. However, we would have been wrong. Because it turns out her natural writer’s instinct was on target all along.

I do not want to ever again share something I am writing until I have written it through to its natural ending. Feedback is essential in revisions but can cripple you in the writing phase. The novel I started for thesis had, and maybe still has, a lot of promise. However, it is not mine anymore. It is heading in a direction I never wanted it to take, and I just don’t know if I can face it anymore.

I changed too many things in an effort to please a reader who had no idea where I was trying to go with my story. I felt helplessly unable to explain where I was going without her being able to read through to the end of the story. She helped me revise to move it in the direction she thought it was going based on what she had read so far. I can’t blame her for trying to help me. That is her job after all. I also can’t blame her for my inability to make her see what I was trying to do.

My job from now on is to get each story down, from start to finish, and make it clear where it is going before sharing it with anyone else. The first draft is mine, and mine alone. I will share when the time is right, and not a moment sooner.

Click here to read my review of Stolen: A Letter to My Captive.

~Amanda L. Webster

1 thought on “When it is bad to get feedback on your writing”

  1. I find it all to easy, when critiquing, to get hyper sensitized and call out too much. What works for me is to mark up the story as much as I want but then to be very carefully about what comments I actually share with the author. I try to be very sparing and keep my comments to just a few things that seem more useful for them at their stage of the craft (as I see it, for better or worse).

    That doesn’t help with something fundamental to the story (like the abduction topic) where I probably would make a comment but unless the writer is already known, they are going to get judged on the first few pages, not how they end the book, so I think calling out that they picked a topic that might turn away readers (and editors and agents) is not inappropriate. Feedback is feedback and always needs to be interpreted.

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