Finding Readers for Initial Drafts: How Do You Do It and Why?

Sunday, July 19, 2009
In your opinion, who makes a better editor/proofreader/critic? Do you often go to a spouse, a significant other, a family member, a friend, a colleague, a loose acquaintance, or are you stubborn enough to do it yourself until you're at a point when you're ready to send it off for final submission?

In my world, I tend to do it myself. Back in the day, I'd ask my mother to read some of my papers for school, but even then, it was just because I'd procrastinate on even getting started so there was not time to take a step away and come back to it with a fresh mind. Nowadays, I will toil on something, gutting and starting anew, and in the end, while I have some pride in my self-sufficiency, I'm left with self-doubt if my academic writing is improving at all over the years. Somedays, it's this feeling of what if I'm in a stagnant quagmire with editors who are too polite to tell me that my writing's lousy? How would I even know?

I guess what it all comes down to is the following. Do many writers and authors pass along a draft to another person not as much for a proofread, but for a semblance of reassurance that the idea is good, the plot is interesting, and the artistry is top-notch? If so, who makes the ideal reader/audience? Do you tend to rely on the same cheerleaders for you, or do you venture outside the group sometimes too? How do you find a truly honest reader versus a friend who feels like boosting your self-esteem more than being forthright?

Likewise, do you often reciprocate with read-throughs? I love reading others' drafts, but waver on ever asking anyone to look at mine. I'd love to hear your input as always. It might help me change my ways so I start becoming a more self-confident writer in my discipline.


Anonymous said...

My first reader is always my mom. I know that she's more of a cheerleader than a critic, but when I've just spent months/years writing a novel, I'd really like to hear someone say, "It was fantastic! I cried at the end!" It also doesn't hurt that Mom is quite good at picking out typos that I missed.

After that, I have my college roommate, a fellow writer, read the work. She's more able to offer real criticism.

Another thing: You will have heard this before, but I cannot over-recommend reading your work aloud. I don't do this as much as I should, but when I do, I catch typos and especially repetition. It also improves dialogue and rhythm.

Ann Summerville said...

I belong to a group who meet usually every two weeks or so. We read outloud. In between, we post chapters on a Yahoo Group. Because we have become familiar with each other's goals and writing we are comfortable in helping each other with not only the writing but also story line. It has been invaluable.

Virginia said...

I tend to do it myself, which I can't say is ideal. I have a writing coach who is fantastic, but she's really been helping me get my book proposal ready, and I can't afford to pay her for everything I write! When in doubt, I will have my husband read something, but generally, no one. Which I do think needs to change.

sundar said...

I tend to do it myself till date. Of course taking it out of the known group might work wonders. But that need lots of courage as the feedback may be either way....

Hart Johnson said...

I feel like the cheerleaders are incredibly important to keeping you going and encouraging, but when you think you are done, you need somebody who is going to be harder on you to make it the best possible.

In graduate school I learned the value of the peer review process in taking something from good to great. In my writer's group I have a couple encouragers, and they got first draft. I had one 'plot critic' who early on caught some things, and a style critic who catches things like pacing and such. And then at the end of the line is my grammar police woman.

I believe I will get better at SOME of it on my own, and maybe one day an editor will play grammar police, but the cheerleaders, the plot critics and and style critics will always improve the work.

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