Writers are fragile. When rejection slips pile up one yearns for reassurance.
A decade back I would feel delighted if someone from my family or a close friend volunteered to read my work. But, often after reading they would feel obliged to make some positive remarks or critical comments. These casual reactions are just that: casual.
A serious writer needs to nurture a group for critique in an ordered and organized way: three to four people who are ready to engage with your work, and choose to invest in your writing career voluntarily over time.
I think finding this group is one of the most crucial aspects of a professional writer’s career. A quick search on the internet can lead anyone to various kinds of writing groups today- organized by geographical area or genres. It is indeed an easy and efficient way to find other writers for feedback. But I have realized it is not the most dependable feedback.
Writing groups that have worked for me have been small, a few members only, who over time become familiar with each other’s writing. In my opinion writing groups with many members usually end up providing only ‘general’ feedback. You also run into two problems:
1) The same writer may not return to read your rewrite or your next short story, and thereby you don’t get consistent engagement with your work.
2) Writers are at different stages of their writing careers, so the needed feedback and the feedback given vary greatly from person to person.
I believe that writers should try and nurture a small alternate writing feedback group, with three other members.
So how does one decide on the three people? I keep the following in mind. Writers meet fellow writers, publishing professionals, journalists, and people in the literary industry all the time. Developing relationships from these meetings over time is the key.
A healthy quid-pro-quo can sustain most of these relationships. For example, if you want to nurture a relationship with a senior writer, then perhaps you can offer something in return – be it a publicity event in your work place/a book review in a small newspaper where you know the editor, or an interview on your blog about the latest novel he/she has finished. I engage with a similarly chosen small group of people.
Here are some characteristics that I look for in fellow writers for my writer’s group:
1) Someone who is deeply interested in literature. Be it an academic who teaches the subject or the language you write in.
2) Writers, preferably someone who writes and reads the genre or form you write. A person who reads a genre or writes it will be well-versed with the contemporary trends and historical traditions of it. This is especially relevant if you prefer writing genre novels instead of literary fiction.
3) A contemporary fellow writer who is struggling with similar issues in his/her writing with an overlapping genre interest.
4) A publishing professional who is constantly reading fresh contemporary fiction emerging in the market.
When I send my work to them I make sure I do the following:
a) Choose a readable font– easy on the eyes, in easy-to-open Word files.
b) Clearly label what version your draft is.
c) If I want feedback on a single aspect only- specify that clearly in the body of your note – so they focus on that aspect for sure.
d) If you know a group member’s strong point is style or structure then you can also make a special note to them for feedback on that dimension.
Most people I interact with prefer email. Check with them what frequency is acceptable. For myself, I ask permission to ask for feedback about once a week. You may find some say an enthusiastic ‘yes’ without knowing what it involves – the investment a writer is hoping for, in terms of time, over time. So, it is nice to attach a small note the first time about your expectations and check in with them.
Remember not to pester your readers if they don’t seem interested- nurturing writers by providing regular feedback is not everyone’s cup of tea! If you don’t get feedback in time from a member, look to cultivate someone else as part of your writer’s feedback group – so you don’t end up waiting for Godot.
Anubha Yadav is an assistant professor at Kamala Nehru College at the University of Delhi in New Delhi,