Feedback, Feedback

One of the most important things for me, as a developing writer, is receiving consistent, constructive feedback on my projects. It’s so easy to get so buried in a project that sometimes it’s impossible to see it objectively. This is where my crit group–and a very small number of gracious professionals–come in.

My group has been together for six years. It’s a very small group, which has, I believe contributed to its success. We meet in a private little corner of cyberspace, but have gotten together numerous times IRL to attend conventions or stage regional “write-ins” when a few members happen to be in the same part of the world at the same time. We have a pretty decent success rate (“success” being defined as publication of projects that we’ve workshopped), and it continues to rise.

There are a lot of crit groups out there. If you’re looking for one, with a little research, you’ll find one that fits your taste and your needs. Many areas have local writers’ groups that meet face-to-face. Or you might consider starting a group with your friends. If you relish face-to-face interaction, and aren’t shy about giving or receiving feedback, this might be the kind of group for you.

Personally, I find that working online makes it easier to both give and receive feedback. We have a rigid schedule (each month, a different member’s project goes through the process) and use a form to structure our responses to the work. Though we’ve become friends over the years, this format has made it easy to focus on the objective, and to give and receive constructive criticism (more or less) without insult or hurt feelings.

There are any number of writing groups, both free and fee-based. What will work best for you is a matter of your taste and your goals. If your goal is seeking as much feedback as possible, you might consider a large online group, like Critters, with over 5000 members around the world. If you’re interested in more personalized, in-depth feedback, you might consider a smaller group.

Beware of vast, unstructured online groups with no reciprocal requirements (ie; give a crit to receive a crit). You may get something helpful once in a while, but often, people are just there to get feedback on their own work. If you decide to go with a paid group, make sure you know what you’re getting before you lay down your money.

Here are a few links that I’ve found helpful:

Flogging the Quill: Professional editor Ray Rhamey (who often leads excellent workshops at writers’ conferences) offers up first pages submitted by writers for his readers to critique, or “Flog.” A free, very large but highly structured critique group for speculative fiction writers.

Writers’ World article on giving and receiving feedback’s collected wisdom on critique and diplomacy

You might also check your local library or bookstore for local groups meeting face-to-face.

A few stats

Because I’m a nut about these things.

  • Number of unpublished novels written before The Affair of the Porcelain Dog: 2
  • Of these, number actually finished: 1
  • How long, from first ink to contract offer: a little over four years
  • Number of drafts: 8
  • Of these, number that were major rewrites (ie; more than 50% of the MS tossed and replaced with something completely different): 4
  • SFD (shitty first draft) word count: around 35K.
  • Word count at highest point: around 100K
  • Accepted draft word count: around 77,300K

Have to qualify “a little over four years” by saying that during the first two years, I had exactly three hours per week to write. The first draft was written in seven months, that is to say, a little less than 200 hours, which sort of boggles my mind to think about it now. The third year, I had six hours per week, and this last year, it’s been closer to twelve. I suppose I should add up the hours for a more accurate count, but I really can’t be bothered with it right now.

I did a survey recently of writers that I know, and was surprised to find a wide variation in their answers to these same questions. Some took as little as six months to get from first ink to a sale, others took several years. Everyone did more than one draft, but few did more than four. Almost everyone had at least one in the “trunk.”

I think it took me eight drafts to get APD right, because I was still trying to figure out what I was doing. That takes a lot of time–a lot of time that could have been saved, by the way, by using an outline. It’s a lot faster and easier to work the plot kinks out of 20 pages of outline than out of 400 pages of text.

The next three novels are already outlined, and between that and having even more writing time this coming year than ever before, the potential for productivity is sort of frightening. The takeaway lesson, I suppose, is that a writer needs to figure out her process and work it, believing in it, as long as forward progress is being made, without worrying about how other writers are doing it.


Hi and welcome!

I’ve been waiting to assemble an “author” website until I was actually an “author.” Though I’ve published a few short stories and essays, numerous articles, and a handful of translations, it felt pretentious to call myself an author until I sold a novel. Well, the novel hasn’t been sold yet, but I’ve just been offered a contract, so I suppose it’s time.

I’ll be posting more as things progress. Thanks for visiting.

Jess Faraday