As I mentioned in my last post, sharing your writing too early (or sharing it with the wrong people), is one of the fastest paths to writer’s block.

Lord knows I’ve been there myself, as well as coached plenty of writers back from the brink of despair caused by well-meaning (but unhelpful) feedback. Along the way, I’ve come up with the following process for protecting yourself and your writing.

Stage 1: Shitty First Draft

When your writing is new (and still vulnerable), the last thing you want to do is ask for detailed feedback. Why? Because you’re just getting your ideas down on the page at this point—you’re still playing, still exploring. Chances are, you don’t even fully know what you have quite yet. The writing is changing and growing, and so are you.

That’s why the only kind of feedback I recommend at this point is positive feedback.

What’s positive feedback?

Positive feedback highlights the powerful nuggets (themes and images) in your writing, and shows you how they impact the reader. Essentially, it will show you what’s already working in your writing (“more of this please!”) so that you can follow that thread of goodness instead of obsessing over any potholes in the road.

In my Memoir Mastery class, this is always where we start. We share a short piece of writing (anywhere from a few paragraphs to 5 pages) and I give our classmates (and readers) a specific set of questions to help them stay focused on the positive elements of the work. None of that “I liked this” or “didn’t like this” and “here’s why” kind of stuff, certainly not at this stage.

Stage 2: Filling Out

When you’re in the “filling out” stage, you’ve had the chance to go back and fill in your writing. Maybe you’ve filled out a character, shaped a scene, revised some dialogue. Either way, you’ve taken another pass or two on your piece, and you’re feeling more clear (as well as confident) about what you’re writing and what you’re trying to accomplish. This is the point where you might want a bit of outside feedback (but not too much!) to take you to the next level.

I think this as the second stage in the writing process, and it’s when I give my writers positive feedback on what’s working as well as a few, specific tips on how (and why) they can strengthen this particular piece.

This is the point when we start talking about the specifics of craft and technique and how to apply them to the writing at hand. I think of this as shining a light on what they have and helping them brighten it/take it to the next level.

Stage 3: Revised and Ready for Feedback

Once a writer’s had had the chance to revise her writing, applying the craft and technique we’ve discussed, she’s often inspired to go back and revise as well as fill out the next big chunk of writing. Once she’s got a larger chunk of her story (say 20-50 pages), she might come to me asking for more specific feedback, such as how the story holds together, etc.

This is when she’s ready for a manuscript review, also called a developmental (or comprehensive) edit.

What is a manuscript review or developmental edit?

Here’s how I define it for my clients:

A developmental edit is a close read of your manuscript pages (double-spaced, in 12-pt font) with an editorial report customized for each writer’s needs and level of expertise.

A developmental manuscript review covers what’s working well in the manuscript as well as what needs to be strengthened, and typically addresses the following components:

  • story structure
  • pacing
  • character development
  • conflict
  • setting
  • dialogue
  • perspective and/or point of view (POV)
  • tone/voice
  • showing v. telling
  • narrative style and organization.

Do you see why I wait before offering this type of feedback to my clients? Giving them this kind of feedback early on can easily shut someone down. Same with that old-school “constructive criticism” so many of us were raised on.

TIP: This is what most writing teachers will offer when you ask for feedback.

So be sure you’re asking for the kind of support you need, not what someone is willing to give you. Be proactive. This is your writing, after all. Protect it.

I’d love to hear from you! What stage are you in in your writing? Simply hit reply or leave a comment below. 

P.S. If you’d like to read more about my coaching services as well as my manuscript reviews, click here.

P.P.S.: I’m super excited about our next round of Memoir Mastery: How to Write a Compelling Memoir, which will be available in September. More details coming soon!


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