When you’re relatively new to a craft, getting feedback can be a crucial part of improving. There comes a time when you write and you write, and you just don’t know if you’re getting anywhere, or if someone else will enjoy this thing you’re creating.
Getting feedback isn’t hard. People love sharing their opinions (even if they aren’t always wanted), and you can usually strongarm a friend or two to read at least some of your work. But getting valuable feedback—the kind of feedback that makes your manuscript more marketable, or teases out the best aspects of your writing—can be a challenge.
And there’s always the fact that truly valuable feedback can lead to bigger things, whether it’s finding friends who write, or stumbling upon connections and opportunities that will lead to bigger things. It’s always scary to put yourself out there, but so many wonderful things can happen if you do.
Before you ask for anyone else’s opinion, know that you have a wonderful and unique voice. It’s far too easy for people with real talent to be discouraged because their writing didn’t resonate with one person.
Think about it: is there a classic you don’t like? Maybe you thought Lord of the Flies was a drag, or you didn’t understand the hype behind Pride and Prejudice. But thousands of people have found value in those books—just because one person doesn’t recognise your talent, doesn’t mean no one will.
Reading is a collaborative process; the writer does half the work, and the reader brings it alive. For some people, the story you provide won’t be quite right for the cast in their heads, and that’s totally fine. And if someone doesn’t like your story, that can be valuable information; perhaps, they just aren’t part of your ideal target audience.
Writing Classes and Courses
Well-chosen writing classes can make a world of difference to your writing. They can truly expand your mind, give you actionable steps you can take to improve your craft, and they are a great opportunity to meet other writers. Depending on the course, some may involve getting comments on your work from the tutor, or working in small groups and giving other writers feedback (as well as receiving it).
It’s important to choose relevant courses for your writing, and if you’re specifically after feedback on your work, to find out if this will be a part of the class. Contact the organisation running the course ahead of time to confirm. General etiquette is to make sure that the tutor doesn’t spend too much time chatting to you about your work and ignoring the other participants.
There is also the option of taking a formal course or degree. This is a great way to get lots of feedback on your writing, but they can be expensive and may not be practical. Research the university and the creative writing/English staff before committing—when it comes to writing, often it’s your networks that make or break your career. If the staff is well-connected, then they may share those networks with you.
Finding a writing group you click with can be a challenge, but it’s a great way to get feedback, and it’s (usually) free. It might take a few goes to find the right people, but once you do, you’ll have a small army of people who are loyal to you and your writing, and who will give you honest feedback. You’ll also get the opportunity to critique their work, which will improve your own ability to self-edit and recognise what makes good writing tick.
Contact writing organisations to find groups near you, and if there isn’t one, ask if they can advertise the fact that you want to start one. Go to events and talk to people about what they write and whether they go to a writing group or have a critique partner.
You can also join writing-based Facebook groups and online forums. The key here is to actually participate, and to engage in conversation. Post in the group, if appropriate, asking if anyone is looking for a critique partner, and if a bunch of people are interested, create a Skype or Facebook group to talk writing and give feedback on each other’s work.
Manuscript Assessments and Mentorships
This is a slightly more expensive route, but it’s a great way to get professional, industry feedback on your writing. Manuscript assessments are when you send your work to a successful writer or industry professional, and they give you a written report with information about marketability, plot, character, theme, voice, setting, and the other important elements of your manuscript. Depending on the service, you can ask specific questions. Then, you take that written report and apply the advice to the work yourself.
Mentorships, on the other hand, are a relationship with a successful person in your field of choice, in which you receive advice about your writing and your career. Often, this can involve intense workshopping of a manuscript over a certain amount of time. This can be a great way to build networks, and to receive high quality feedback on your work.
If either of these are out of your price range, consider applying for a grant or keeping an eye out for opportunities. The Australian Society of Authors runs an annual program where 13 emerging writers and illustrators receive fully subsidised mentorships, and there are plenty of other options available.