A friend of mine has the beginning of a novel completed and asked me when it’s a good time to get feedback on his work. Would it be best to have friends read it mid-project to make sure he’s on the right track? Or should he wait to finish the draft?
There isn’t a simple answer to this question.
Sometimes getting feedback too early can completely derail the momentum of a project. Critical voices can get in the head of a writer, diluting the initial idea that drew them to the work. On the other hand it could be inspirational and help generate ideas. Feedback could get a writer through a road block on a project, or help him to focus an unwieldy story.
For me, writing a first draft requires boundaries. My first drafts are about figuring out what my subconscious has to say. I need room to explore, play, and not worry about craft yet. After I have a first draft, I begin to craft plot, tone, voice, etc., and figure out what the novel really wants to be. However, that is my process. I’ve met lots of writers who have a strong grip on their novel and what it is from word one. Some writers can be ready earlier to get feedback on tone, pacing, character, plot, etc.
So, how do you decide when it’s right to get feedback on your work?
Think about your current WIP and ask yourself:
1) How many “fresh eyes” do you have at your disposal? Eventually you will run out of readers who’ve never read an earlier draft of your book. You may want to hold off till you have a draft you feel is worth using up those “fresh eyes” on.
2) How many voices can you deal with in your head at once? Are you at a point in your work where you are ready to hear feedback? How will you react if that feedback challenges your choices? Do you think if someone said the beginning isn’t working that it would be helpful, or would it hinder your forward momentum? Be honest, are you stuck in the sticky-middle and looking for an excuse to start again?
3) Are you stuck and need some feedback to help you get back on track? Do you need others to help you brainstorm? Are you in a place where you’re open to suggestions and that dialog excites you? This can be the perfect reason to get some feedback early.
4) What are you looking for from feedback? Encouragement? A cheerleader? Constructive criticism? Brainstorming? Line editing? Let your readers know what you’re expectations are.
Also, if you’re only at the opening of your novel (like my friend), remember that once you get to the end of your book you will most likely re-write the beginning. So consider the fact that if you’re getting feedback on the opening of your novel – and you don’t have an ending yet – that feedback may be moot later.
Ultimately, this is up to you and how you incorporate feedback during your writing process. If you can use it and still hold on to the heart and integrity of your own work — then go for it. Just be honest with yourself and figure out why you feel like you want feedback right now. Is it a self-sabotage tool to distract you from the writing at hand, or do you genuinely think it’s time to receive feedback and incorporate it into the work? Only you know what will best help the development of your project.