Oh boy this is a tough one! Recently I was asked by a close family member to read the first chapter of their novel and let them know what I thought. Easier said than done. It needed a lot of work. It’s no so bad critiquing other people’s work when you don’t know them but when you’re close to them, it can be very difficult.
I put it off for a few days until I finally decided to just take the plunge. After all, they had asked me to be honest. I’d never been so aware of getting the balance between criticism and encouragement just right. How do you say “You’re doing great! But you need to change the whole thing completely”?
I gave the feedback for the major points that I felt didn’t work and tried to provide some useful advice. This person has poo-pooed the idea of going to a critique group so it seems that the burden of telling them what’s wrong has fallen on me. This is a problem for a number of reasons:
- Getting feedback from a range of people is better than getting it from just one person. Different people will spot different things and perhaps be able to give more varied suggestions.
- These could be potential buyers of the book! The more willing an author is to share and be involved in a community, the more positive responses they will get.
- Joining a group means that a writer will get the opportunity to give critiques to others and this is a useful skill to have. Seeing mistakes other people have made may make you more aware of your own writing mistakes. It also means when it comes to editing your work you can look at it more objectively.
- It’s not fair on me or the person who is expecting so much from me. What if I miss something? As it happens I have no experience and virtually no interest in the genre this person is writing in. I try to read as widely as possible but it’s still never going to be easy to critique something I’m not familiar with.
To be fair, the person has taken on board my advice and rewritten the chapter. I hope they also look at joining a critique group because that was the most valuable advice I could give them.
If joining a critique group is physically difficult (as it is for me; I live in the middle of nowhere pretty much) or you are nervous about the feedback, then finding one online is a good way to ease yourself in. The online writing community is extremely friendly with an emphasis on helping each other. The one I found to be most useful so far (I haven’t tried any others yet) is Scribophile, where you have to give feedback in order to post your work and receive it. I highly recommend it.
Giving feedback on anyone’s writing can be difficult especially if that person is close to you. It makes it so much easier if they are willing to keep an open mind and receive it from others as well.