After speaking at the California Writer Coalition last week, one of the writers in attendance sent me a nice email and attached 17 pages of a manuscript described a “rough draft.” She wanted my opinion to see if she was on the “right track.” I was flattered she felt I could help, but I turned her down anyway.
I did want to help her but I knew that sending out a rough draft or anything the writer knows needs “a lot of work” is a mistake. In my experience, it is too early in the writing process to ask for outside direction. I look at the rough draft as my opportunity to get my ideas out of my head and down on paper or computer, whether my ideas are good or not. This is followed by lot of editing: deleting the ideas that do not fuel the story, fixing grammar, spelling, ordering of ideas, and looking to enhance the quality of the words I use. The completed process (when I give up or think I am done) is my first draft. Then the process repeats, sometimes many times over.
When to get opinions?
I would say trust your instincts and write the best story you can. Edit. Repeat. When you think you are done and mostly happy with your pages but have a few specific questions, are still open for feedback and willing to make changes, then send it out. Look for impartial people you can trust to give you honest feedback (read: not your family and best friends) who do not need to tear your ego down in the process. The writing should reflect your voice and style, where your story and ideas are complete for you. This means the reader will be allowed to read without having to consider the likely changes that would come in following drafts. It will also eliminate comments about typos, grammar and smaller imperfections that might take away from the larger issues of storytelling and craft — there are always some issues.
Personally, I will not send out a draft for an opinion unless I am well into my second draft. This ensures that I will not waste my, or my reader’s, time.
And remember you may only have one opportunity to impress and agent or editor, so your final submission should be perfect.
Photo by Gina Found
I agree with this wholeheartedly when it comes to giving your work to strangers, but sometimes I think it can be helpful to hear from friendlier ears a little earlier on. They can help set you right if you’re headed down a perilous path, saving you lots and lots of time. The trick is having an ear for knowing when they’re right or not.
I think you make a strong point. Thank you. Personally, I usually feel out topics before writing with “friendlier ears” with discussion, before the writing process — and certainly not the only way to do it. I would also agree that developing a knowing “ear” is incredibly important in separating good feedback from not-so good feedback — and, for me, looking at my own work.
Boy are you right! Today, I received a ten thousand word “start of a novel” emailed to me. The person wanted to know if it was worth going on! Without even opening it, I told him that it was worth it only if he wanted to put in the work, that at ten thousand words, he would need to work until he had at least 55k to 65k to have enough material to begin working with the start editing to shape the novel.