As authors, we want people to enjoy our work. While the process from start to finish can often be a circuitous route and may not even end once the product is released, getting feedback from peers or trusted readers is important. However, it can also be one of the most difficult parts of the process. After all, the piece we’re working on—whether it’s flash fiction, a short story, novella, or novel—is our baby, and having someone tell us that our baby has issues or is outright ugly isn’t pleasant. So, how do go about bringing up baby in the least traumatic way possible?
The saying “It takes a village” to raise a child definitely applies to writing, and finding that village can be a crucial first step. You want to find a group of readers and critiquers who have your best interests at heart. These people should be willing to give fair, honest advice and support without just resorting to the “I love it! Don’t change a thing!” statement that most authors’ loved ones trot out when they don’t want to hurt your feelings by commenting on your baby.
The process can be made easier by first of all finding a group that is warm and welcoming to newcomers and established members alike. While familiarity will definitely give you a better feel for that, trust your gut right from the start. If you’re made to feel like an outsider or a burden, take your baby and run. In my experience, the writing world is a supportive one that celebrates the success of others. As with any group, there are those who can’t or won’t do those things, but that should be the exception, not the rule. You want a group who lifts you up, not drags you down.
The group should also encourage you to look after their own babies and welcome your assistance with helping them grow. If they just want to constantly tell you how to go about rearing your piece from infant concept to full-grown final product without giving you the opportunity to do the same for them, the relationship is going to get stagnant or toxic. Part of the process of critique is giving one as well as receiving one. The more you look at other author’s children from an objective, analytical mindset, the easier it is for you to do the same for your own baby.
You also need to know what critique about your baby you should accept and which to disregard to give lesser weight to. As each parent must bear the ultimate responsibility for their child’s upbringing, authors have to accept that they will get full credit or blame for how their piece turns out. If one person tells you they have an issue, it might be okay to disregard the feedback. However, if multiple people have the same issue, it’s probably in your best interest to listen. When it comes down to it, you are absolutely entitled to stick to your vision and your voice as the author. Just know that if you do that, you’re going to be standing alone once your baby ventures out into the world. It’s a reflection on you, and if you’ve disregarded advice you shouldn’t have, people probably won’t want to have anything to do with your next child.
As well as helping to mold your babies into great children, a critique group should help to mold and change you into a better parent. (That means author, in case you’re having trouble following the potentially convoluted metaphor that I’m using.) In the six years I’ve been involved with my critique group, Nevermore Edits, I’ve definitely grown and changed as an author as the number of babies I’ve birthed has grown. That is thanks in part to the amazing people who have taken an interest in my babies and helped them grow. Some of my babies have won awards, and some of them have been bitter disappointments. Such is life. Especially the life of an author.
But that’s why we do what we do. We want to create. We want to leave a legacy and continue our name after we’ve moved on to whatever may come next after this life. That’s why our stories, our babies, are so important. If you’re smart, if you’re truly serious about making your babies into the adult-like pieces they should be, you’ll take the first step and find the village that will help you in bringing up baby.
Shannon Iwanski is the former president of the Tulsa-based writing group Nevermore Edits, a member of Oklahoma Writers' Federation, Inc., and Editor-in-Chief of Inkubus Publishing, LLC. To learn more about him and his plans to turn the world into a dystopian society, check out shannoniwanski.com.