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