3. Feedback & Revision
(iii) FEEDBACK FROM OTHER WRITERS
Other writers give another kind of feedback, less reliable but valuable for other reasons. It’s less reliable because other writers are always liable to want to write their own book instead of yours. They leap off along lines of possibility, then feel frustrated when you follow a different line.
The great virtue of writers’ feedback is the flip side of the same coin—it can open your eyes to alternatives. Writing through a novel, you have to convince yourself that things happened in exactly this way and no other. That’s a necessary part of believing in the reality you invent. But when your way isn’t working out, you need to escape from your self-imposed spell.
Things could have happened in a different way, and other creative minds are great at discovering those ways. You may not follow anyone’s particular suggestion, you may end up developing an alternative of your own. Still, someone has to help you open up that headspace in the first place.
Critique groups of other writers are very useful, and there are plenty of them around. You need other writers on the same rung of the ladder as yourself: published or practised or beginners. Everyone should have a similar ‘standing’ and a similar confidence or nervousness about making and receiving critiques.
You also need writers with social skills and tact! Real criticism doesn’t have to be delivered like a blow to the head. The members of the group should be aware of, and take care of, each other’s feelings.
Here's the ROR critique group of professional writers. We meet about once every 18 months to give feedback on one another's draft novels. At our Tasmanian retreat a year ago, I took in some very useful feedback on Song of the Slums. (The photo was from a different time and doesn't include Tansy Raynor Roberts or Dirk Flinthart who were there in Tasmania.)