5 Tips for Evaluating Writing Feedback and Advice

Writing feedback is great–but only if you know what to do with it. A healthy sense of your own Push, a clear mind, and a system for managing feedback will keep you on track with your vision and give you fresh insight and motivation.

I’m headed to the Realm Makers 2017 speculative fiction conference this weekend. I’ll be taking pitches for Uncommon Universes Press and mentoring authors on every stage of the journey.

And one thing I’ll make sure each author know is that they should evaluate every piece of advice and judgment they receive. Including mine.

Naturally, I think I’m fantastic at giving advice and feedback. Comes from being a teacher, coach, editor, and a kind-hearted know-it-all who really loves to fix problems and help people succeed.

But I’ve also been on the other side. I’ve gotten great advice from well-meaning people. I’ve gotten horrible advice from well-meaning people. I’ve gotten great advice from people who could be technically, scientifically classified as “meanies,” and I’ve gotten bad advice from meanies too.

The fact is, nobody’s perfect. The “meanie” person giving you feedback could be giving you good advice, but is just very blunt and/or hasn’t had their coffee that day. Or they could just be spiteful (because those people exist too). The kind and sweet person could be giving you bad advice, but doesn’t want to hurt your feelings or is just an indirect communicator. Or they could be really inexperienced (those people exist too).

And we’re all human. So even your perceptive of the individual could be suspect, colored by any preexisting relationships, personality clashes, emotional attachment (or lack thereof) to the manuscript, or even whether or not you’ve had coffee.

A healthy vetting process is vital to receiving, understanding, and processing writing feedback. Make sure you’re prepared with these five tips.

5 Tips for Evaluating Writing Feedback and Advice

1.) Take notes. Write everything down. Always save the notes they emailed to you, even if you don’t like them. You might think you’re a fast processor, but it is vital to give yourself time to process and glean whatever you can from their advice after thoughts, prayers, and consideration. If you really figure out later that it’s not useful, then you can delete/erase/burninate the feedback.

2.) Give yourself time. Don’t immediately try to understand everything, especially if it’s critique that points out flaws. Go through it in stages when you’re in a healthy, balanced state of mind. For some people, this might be half an hour. For others, it might be half a month. If you’re getting online help, take a step back and exercise or cook or do something else to clear your head. If you’re at a writing conference or workshop, step back and put the notes away. Have a glass of wine, go out to a coffee shop, watch a movie, or do whatever else you need to give yourself vital distance from your work.

3.) Remember your Push. Return to your notes, your motivation and vision statements, your direction for this manuscript, and the purposes behind its creation. Get clear and solid in your worldview and mindset, not so that you can cling to it excessively, but so you can understand your own biases and preferences. Those biases and preferences aren’t bad, but the purpose of feedback is to be challenged as well as encouraged.

4.) Get a variety of feedback. Publishers. Agents. Editors. Fellow authors. Readers. Feedback from all of these individuals can give you a solid sense of what you have, what you need, and where you’re going. Try to go for people who read and are familiar with you’re writing and trying to achieve. Also, always be gracious to the person giving you feedback, even if you don’t like it or agree with it. Grace is a professional and personal quality that never goes out of style.

5.) Evaluate the person you’re getting feedback from. Hopefully you’re getting feedback from people familiar with your genre and field, but sometimes that beta read gets sent to a broader audience, or you wanted to test out your project with an agent who is curious about your romance, but does more with action-adventure (and they had a free appointment at the conference).  It is fine to step outside of your comfort zone, but be aware that their feedback might not be normative. However, if you’re finding that your work is connecting more with the non-normative readers, then that might be a clue that you’re really in a different genre and don’t know it.

You may not fit into any genre boxes or conventions at all. You may just have to build your own box, tweaking your story’s exterior and setting a little to reach your readers (sadly, online websites and bookstores don’t have a special “steampunk + crime novel + middle grade + pseudo-memoir” section) while still keeping your core Push and stories as strong and as vibrant as you are. Never give up on your book just because it doesn’t fit in. Get out your writing tools and get to work!

Need advice? Sign up for a free 1:1 with me. I specialize in figuring out that sweet spot in drafting and marketing so you can Write Inside Out with freedom, clarity, and purpose.

Above all, keep seeking feedback. Whether easy or difficult, getting critiques is vital to the writing process and improvement in the craft. And your book is worth it.

Greetings Authors! Please share any other tips, thoughts, or feedback in the comments. I love talking with you!

 

Revise It! Recruiting and Using Reader Feedback

Beta Readers

Reader response can be one of your most important resources in the revision process–or it can derail everything and leave you confused and insecure in a corner, wondering why you even bother writing. Here are several steps to making your reader recruitment process smooth, easy, and effective.

Notice I didn’t say painless.  You’re asking for reader response, after all. You want to know what’s working and what isn’t now so you can process and fix it before you go onto the editor step. So a little(ish) pain is part of the deal.  😉

Before you go into the reader feedback stage, go back and make sure you’ve evaluated your reasons for revision. Get solid on your vision so that you know what questions to ask your readers, and you can evaluate their input effectively.

Readers can come a couple of flavors:

  • Cheerleaders – These are readers who read along as you’re drafting your manuscript. Their main job is to keep you accountable to goals and encourage you to keep going. Some writers don’t use cheerleaders, preferring to create free and solo, away from anyone else’s critique. Others (like me) swear by them. While I’ll do short works without cheerleaders, for me writing is an inherently social endeavor, so I need the constant feedback of my circle of readers to keep going.
  • Alpha Readers – Also called first readers. One or two people who read your manuscript just for the joy of it. Alpha readers only comment when they’re really jarred of the narrative or confused by something. I don’t necessarily use these because my cheerleaders tend to give me quick readers summaries after I finish a manuscript.
  • Beta Readers – After the alpha reader(s), the beta readers are your major source of reader feedback. Whereas alpha readers give unprompted reader-response, beta readers often get a list of questions or concepts to skim for and check. They’ll give your manuscript a more detailed look-over according to your specifications, often in exchange for an advance look at your epic story or as part of a beta read swap.
  • Gamma Readers – Readers who go over the manuscript in later stages and offer specific feedback. Can also be brought in at the end for endorsement purposes and final feedback about genre/audience for your work.
  • Specialty Readers – these can come along anywhere in the process, but they’re singled out for specific purposes. They might include sensitivity readers if you’re dealing with a particular area that you aren’t familiar with in terms of life experience, race, sexuality, disability, culture, religion, etc. They might also include readers with specific technical knowledge or expertise who can give feedback on whether or not your content sounds plausible.

Guidelines for Using Reader Feedback

  • Evaluate your reasons for revision. Again. Evaluate your reasons for revision. Clarity of purpose is one of the most valuable tools you have as a writer.
  • Decide what kind of readers you want to use. You don’t have to use all of the ones listed, and you may have some super-specific extra-special top-secret psi readers that you use for the ultimate in feedback.
  • Choose readers who actually enjoy your genre. They will inherently understand the tropes and expectations. Plus, if they like the story, they might sign up for ARCs and be able to give endorsements or reviews!
  • Use multiple readers. I would recommend three beta readers at minimum to give yourself a good variety of feedback. Using more than three is fine, but it can be overwhelming to process. Using less means you won’t have the varied perspectives. Also, if you can, try to have readers from different backgrounds or skill sets.
  • Compose a list of questions. Give them to beta readers so they have specific areas to look for. This can ensure higher quality feedback and be really helpful for your readers.
  • Compare feedback to your purposes. Make sure you hold strong in your vision, but also be open to getting new perspectives on your writing. That is the purpose of feedback, after all!
  • Be gracious to your readers. These are individuals who have given their time and energy to read your work and help you out. Gratitude is a great and classy response. Some authors list significant readers in their acknowledgements, while others offer free ARCs or do beta read swaps.

Note: at this point I’d love to make a huge shout-out to my awesome cheerleader readers and beta readers, who are incredibly supportive and picky at the same time. Y’all are amazing!

Greetings Authors! What kinds of readers do you use? Got any other tips for using reader feedback? Wanna acknowledge some awesome readers in your life? Give a shout-out in the comments!

Revise It! Evaluating Your Story Revision Goals

Why are you revising this manuscript?

Writing inside out means always coming back to the goals, motivation, and heart of your story. It means owning your deepest truths and convictions and then infusing them in every aspect of the writing process.

It’s owning your Push.

Good revising takes good planning, and good planning starts with knowing what your goals and mission and Push are for your story. Even if you’re revising this story on a ‘have-to’ basis because you’ve been blessed with a contract, returning to your own motivations will enable you to tap into more enthusiasm, energy, and productivity when you’re in the depths of “where the crap did THAT sentence come from?” or its sibling, “who wrote this? A five-year-old? Oh wait, no. I did. Whoops!” or their cousin, “holy infodump, Batman!”

Yes, those are quotes from my own self-revision process, lest you think that editors and coaches are somehow superheroes who can crank out perfect manuscripts with breathless ease. While expertise can make story-crafting easier, every writer still has to travel the same journey in revisions and self-editing.

Evaluating the revision process makes ultimately your life easier and gives you quantifiable goals that can work within your revision schedule.

Evaluating Your Story Revision Goals

Why do I need to revise this story right now?

If you’re under a deadline, this is easy to answer. You committed to producing the product, and now you’ve gotta buckle down and do it. The next step is just to figure out how to fuel your brain and creativity to get the job done.

If you’re not under an imposed, necessary deadline, consider carefully what would serve you and the story best. Setting aside your manuscript and allowing it to breathe is a part of the writing process and allows your brain to rest–and this doesn’t just mean novel manuscripts.

A romantic spoof short story I recently released, Hearts Ablaze, was written three years ago in a flurry of satirical creativity. Then I set it aside and worked on other things. When I returned to the story this past March and realized it was actually good, I was evaluating the story with three additional years of experience, not just wishful thinking.

Three years is an extreme example, but always consider the possibility that setting work aside could be part of your process.

What are three reasons I wrote this story? 

These don’t have to be deep, complex reasons. They could be a message on your heart, a desire to have fun, or an excuse to entertain yourself. One reason could easily be “because the owner of the magazine asked me” or “because I want to enter this contest” (although in both of those cases: why that magazine or that contest?). The important thing is that you know those reasons and that you write them down (or at least keep them in mind). Your three story reasons are your focus and your encouragement as you revise.

What are my publishing plans for this story?

Your plans may already be decided by the publisher or the contest. Otherwise, what do you plan to do with this piece? Are you writing a short story to tease out a future release? A quick novella to experiment with a concept? Are you working on a series of books? How do you plan on publishing them? Once a year? In quick succession over a year? If you’re looking to query a series for traditional publication, I strongly recommend outlining as much as possible ahead of time to show the house, and if possible, have more than one book written.

Or maybe you wrote this story for fun and don’t have any future plans. That’s fine too! That was a main reason why I wrote Hearts Ablaze. Just tuck the story away for later or keep it as a fun brain-game–but always stay open to possible publishing urges!

What does my ideal reader look like for this story–and what would I want them to say about it?

Picture your ideal reader. What do they look like? What do they wear? What kind of activities do they enjoy? What do you want that reader to notice about your story? Picture your ideal book review from that reader. Other than “I just bought a hundred copies” 😉 what would you want that review to say? Sure, you can’t actually choose what reviewers say, but you can revise your content to meet reader and genre needs (while still honoring your vision). This is a really helpful exercise when submitting to magazines and contests, because in those cases you already have the readership in line, which makes them easier to target.

Who can I share this story with?

You know your story best, and your excitement for that story is contagious! Part of writing inside out is knowing your motivations and passions and sharing those naturally with potential readers so they catch the fire. However, this passion can get stalled if there is anything in your work that you’re not comfortable owning.

Consider now the reactions of friends, family, and your present/future fan base. If there would be disapproval or concern over you authoring your story, that doesn’t mean you can’t go ahead. It does mean you should evaluate how much you want to invest in the story, whether you want to adjust anything during revisions, and how you want to present it to others. If you’re in a job that mandates a certain degree of self-censorship, consider using a pen name. Otherwise, this question at least forces you to understand the core of your story and identify your audience so that you own whatever controversial subject matter you’re working with.

Why do I like this story?

Always come back to this. Your feelings towards the story will always come through. Yes, an editor can help filter those things out, but why force yourself through something you aren’t enjoying? Especially if you have to write this for a deadline, make a list of things you like just to remind yourself of why you’re at this. Invest in your delight of your story and ‘bank it’ in different ways so that you can pull from that passion when you’re in the depths of seemingly endless detailed rewrites and revision. Make Pinterest boards. Collect articles or objects that inspire your work. Make playlists. Sketch. As a bonus, all of this passion can make marketing easier when you get to that stage!

Your story is worth your investment of time, passion, and purpose. And if after all of this, you’re feeling flaccid and indifferent, I ask again:

Why are you revising this manuscript?

Greetings, authorsmiths! I’d love to hear your answers for any/all of the questions above in the comments–and if you’re in drafting mode, I’d love to hear what your WIP is about, and what makes it so awesome!

 

Revise It! The Miniseries: Six Steps to Unpacking Your First Draft

First draft story revisions are just like unpacking after moving homes–especially if you move the way I do.

There is a world where items are meticulously packed into just the right boxes and loaded with absolute precision into just the right location in the moving truck.

I’ve moved over ten times in my life, and I do not live in this world.

In my world, no matter how carefully I pack, for some reason there are all these little random bits and pieces everywhere that still have to go in boxes or something portable while people are loading the truck.

IMG_20170623_124106594
Actual boxes of random.

This is basically how I finish drafting a story too. I’m a plotter/pantser hybrid. Once I’ve outlined enough and have a list of scenes, drafting is mostly a straight-forward process.

Until the end, which is usually late at night because I’ve determined that I WILL FINISHED THE THING NOW. I cling desperately to the threads of the plot and shove all possible bits of climax and falling action and resolution in their spots, and then collapse with what is hopefully some kind of profound ending. Ish.

Then come the self-edits and revisions. Figure out where all those pieces are packed and hope that all of my best-laid goals and plans came through in one piece.

Rather like the toaster oven I’m still trying to find.

First draft book edits and revisions

 

Revise It! The Miniseries: Six Factors to Unpacking Your First Draft tackles six key areas in content revisions to get your first draft into great condition! And while there are a lot of different ways to revise, there are some fundamental sweeps that pretty much every manuscript needs to express your vision, please your readers, and, if your content editor is like me, get that lower rate due to being a fantastically-solid piece of self-edited work.

Maybe you’re a plotter that writes super-clean drafts. If so, then another checklist to make sure your revision goes super-quick can’t hurt so you can excel even more.

Maybe you’re a pantser who trusts that somewhere in that mass of words is a great story. I believe in you! But a great revision makes sure the world sees your brilliance.

And if you’re somewhere in between like me, welcome to the club! We have cookies. Once I find the cookie sheets and cookie mix to bake them. And probably a mixing bowl.

Cookie Quote

Ahem.

Revise It! The Mini-Series includes the following:

  • Get multiple flavors of readers (alphas, betas, etc) and learn how to process their input effectively.
  • Clean up your characterization and create three-dimensional characters who are irresistible to readers.
  • Sort out your plot with quick and easy organizer checks that clarify your original, beautiful vision.
  • Figure out how to identify and ditch boring parts (always keeping your genre and target audience in mind).
  • Learn to manage pacing, not just to speed up your story, but also to hold the pause button on significant moments of high emotion and drama.

Note: I’m not numbering these factors because everyone’s brains work differently, and if your process is working efficiently with your brand of creativity, then awesome! If your process isn’t working for you, then all I have to say is: 30 minute author coaching. Contact me and be there for the fun! 🙂

Greetings Authors! What are you working on lately? What is one area where you are strong in revising and self-editing? What’s one area where you could improve?

Five Fun Ways To Use Plants in Your Fiction

Five Fun Ways to use in your fiction

Maybe it’s all the green from St. Patrick’s Day yesterday, or maybe I’m just tired of being in the frozen North where green things don’t really show up until mid-April, but today, plants are taking over the blog. Consider this one of those world-building/plotting mash-ups to give you a fresh perspective as you take on your weekend!

Note: this is slightly ironic because, despite two years of teaching basic botany, my personal plant-caring skills are less than awesome. However, I love finding ways to use plants in stories. At least they’ll thrive somewhere!

Environments
One of the most obvious ways to use plants is in setting. Whether you’re creating entirely new flora and fauna for a fantasy world or inviting your readers into a new locale on this planet, using details about plants can help set the stage and make your story stand out. Plants can trigger all of the senses, which makes them a great thing for adding sensory detail–even the sound of leaves rustling in the trees or brush crunching underfoot is a great way to anchor your reader into the story. Using a city environment? Unless you’re in a post-apocalyptic, no-green world, plants are sturdy and adaptable enough to grow anywhere.

Food
From special herbs to succulent salads to delicious fruit desserts, there are plenty of ways to use plants in your food descriptions. While it’s easy to dismiss food as an unnecessary part of world-building and plotting, food has actually been used in pivotal ways throughout history. Sea travelers ate oranges to stave off scurvy. The colonists of America would have starved without a friendly Native American teaching them how to grow corn. And then consider the Irish potato famine and the origins of the Dust Bowl–both instances where poor plant farming drastically changed millions of lives.

Love/Romance
From love potions to pheromones, plants are a primary culprit in love and romance for many stories. A Midsummer Night’s Dream did this to great effect and humor (and yes, magic was involved as well), and a common trope in science fiction television is for the cast to find themselves on a planet with plants that send out frisky vibes. Supervillain Poison Ivy takes this to another level with her poisonous kisses. Even just using a lush garden as a surrounding or a bouquet of fragrant flowers as a gift can be a great way to add romance. And if that bouquet of roses is dipped in blood, suddenly you’ve gone from romance to horror, which can be a fun twist!

The Villain
From poisonous to people eating, plants can make the best baddies. Of course, someone using a plant-based poison to kill someone else else is a time-honored plot twist–and it helps that so many plants are both healing and poisonous. Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors has a taste for human flesh that makes for great tension. M. Night Shymalan’s The Happening has plants releasing spores to take out humans. In fact, plants run amok is a common theme in horror and is an aspect of the natural horror subgenre.

Medicine
From athelas in The Lord of the Rings to herbology classes in the Harry Potter books, the plants that can kill you can also make you stronger. Plants are used so much for medicinal purposes, especially in mythological and medieval story worlds, that it would almost be a cliche if it weren’t so accurate. However, the degree to which plants are used as medicine is also an easy indicator for the general anthropological period of your story, as in modern days over-the-counter medicines and chemical remedies are more common, and in science fiction stories the usage of actual leaves and roots in home-grown remedies can be viewed as suspicious. In addition, the way characters respond to the usage of plants in medicine can be a way to reveal aspects of their personality.

Edgar the Plotbunny is a fan of plants!

 What about you, readers and #plothoppers? How do you use plants in your stories? What other ways have you seen plants used?

 

Major Editing Giveaway!

My friend Bethany A. Jennings over at SimmeringMind.com is launching her editing career, and as part of that, is throwing one massive editing giveaway! I’m honored to be part of this. I’m giving away a print copy of my world-building textbook AND workbook:

textbookworkbookdouble

Plus, I’m giving away two hours of coaching and two ten-page comprehensive content edits! Check out my Coaching/Editing page for more details on how I help writers unlock their potential and refine their work so that it’s irresistible!

Go to the SimmeringMind.com to enter to win these and other awesome prizes, including posters, a coffee mug, blurb help, and more!

FOCUS Your Writing in 2017

My word of the year: FOCUS.

Focusing is a funny thing for me. As someone who has sensory processing issues and who was once diagnosed with A.D.D., I’ve found that I actually focus better when I’m working on more than one project. The high pressure and constant stimulation of different activities keep me from losing interest.

At the end of last year, I decided to turn my multi-focused brain in my favor by splitting off into two brands: janeenippolito.com (fiction and book reviews) and writeinsideout.com (nonfiction writing help).

writeinsideout.com is now exclusively a place of writing and world-building help (and sometimes guest features) from someone who was extensively educated in ALL THE WRITING RULES and through years of experience as a writer and a teacher, knows which ones to break (which is most of them if you do it at the right time and in the right place).

As a part of that, my first series is

foundations-tofiction-writing-3

In other news, apparently voters are a fan of both bunnies AND camels, because “put a bunny or camel in every blog post” came in second place on my reader poll. I am a woman of my word, and so here folks, is your first Bunny of the New Year! 😀

img_20170105_173422758

Meet Edgar the Plot Bunny! This wise lagomorph was rescued from a friend’s basement and he is eager to see the world and share all of the exciting plots he’s come up with over his years of solitude! Follow the exploits of Edgar at #EdgarthePlotBunny and #plothop for plot prompts, thoughts, ideas, and random!

What about you? Do you have a word for the year? What’s your current writing project? Please share in the comments!