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Second opinions.

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Questionable, Dec 30, 2021.

  1. Questionable

    Questionable New Member

    I'm sure this is a very common and expected phenomenon - getting the sense that "maybe I don't have enough perspective". A single person can only have so much life experience, can only do so much research... When it comes to identifying the merits and demerits of any aspect of a story, I feel that I am admittedly weak for this reason. I'm only one person. One who isn't very confident in their work, ideas, experiences... The validity of their opinions. If a novel is to be published, it matters what the readers think, and at the end of the day, everyone's perspective is different. That bears the question: In what ways is the writer's perspective unique? What might they find understandable that a larger majority might find otherwise?

    To cut to the chase a little: I don't have anyone to share with. I could dump everything related to my work-in-progress here for all to read, but that runs against my worry that somehow I might've accidentally stumbled across an idea worthy of publishing, and someone with more drive and inspiration and I would swoop in and... Not necessarily steal it, perhaps more like become heavily inspired by it. Then, on the off chance I do manage to publish someday... "Wow, this strikes me as very similar to -XYZ-." I don't believe this is ego; rather, I believe it is anxiety. That doesn't change the fact that it will be difficult for me to get over this worry anytime soon, and as such, I would like to pose a question.

    What are the methods some of you use to seek critiques and input? This forum is one option, but are there smaller, more private communities you find yourselves in? Is it "normal" to have family and friends interested in your work? Because mine certainly aren't interested in mine. Given my strong belief that outside perspective breeds a greater chance of success, perhaps you could understand how difficult it's been for me to trudge along without it for months.

    I am wholly unacquainted with the writing community, and as such, my knowledge of resources is limited - as, frankly, are my social skills. Even now I'm not sure if what I'm asking is silly or not, so please grant me a little additional patience, if I could request it.

    I would appreciate guidance. All I'd like is to have someone to share my work in progress with. Someone willing to read a little, give feedback, thoughts, impressions... I've waited long enough that this feels very overdue, and I'm not sure where exactly to go from here.

    Final note: The aforementioned issues are compounded by the fact that this is my first attempt at writing a novel of any kind, so my lack of experience is a glaring issue here. I've had the dream for years and now I'm finally sitting down and doing it. My own personal validation only flies as far as I can throw it!

    Thank you in advance for any and all responses.
    TheCrystallineEntity likes this.
  2. Karlin

    Karlin Scribe

    Hi. Writing is largely a lonely business, but , as you said, at some point you want to bounce your work off of somebody. Family, friends and even acquaintances can help, though you wrote that your friends and family aren't willing to help.
    Personally, I don't share much on forums, but I know that many do. I wouldn't worry too much about somebody running off with your idea, unless your idea is totally insanely different than what's already out there- in which case it's unlikely that anybody else would know what to do with it (I'm basically in that situation right now). Post just the first chapter or two of your work to get some initial feedback.
    Also- give yourself a little slack and a lot of honor for even trying to write! Most people don't have any such ideas, or never even try. I have a close friend, a University professor of philosophy, who has published many books in his field, and when he reads my drafts he'll say things like "wow! I could never just make up stuff like that and write it down!"
    kalencap likes this.
  3. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Inkling

    Everyone has a different experience of life and knows things that no one else knows, even if they seem to be trivial to the person experiencing them. Each person has a different perspective, which, if developed properly, can be a gift for readers.

    You don't need to share anything online if you don't want. I suggest finding a local critique group. If you can find one specialising in fantasy and sci-fi, then great, but a general fiction group could still help you by giving an outside perspective on your writing. Join one and submit your first couple of chapters. That's often enough to get a lot of useful feedback. With family, it really depends on your family. Some families are good for this some not so much.

    If there's no local group, consider starting one via FB, Meetup.com, or local notice boards, perhaps in a bookshop. I did this, and nearly 8 years later it's grown into something good.
    kalencap likes this.
  4. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

    I personally use some of my close friends for critiques, and for me that works well. Writers groups can be good, but you'll need to be prepared to give criticiques on other peoples writing - its a question of mutual support. Depending on how productive the group is, that committment to read and critique others work can be quite large.

    I wouldn't worry about people stealing ideas, the key to success is how well you write and how well you develop those ideas and concepts. There are quite a few best selling authors out there who achieved success through the quality and readability of their writing rather than the originality of their ideas.

    The one thing you might want to think about is what you do when you come to trying to publish your work. Many publishers like to have first rights to your work, which means they won't consider something which is already available on line - and that includes things you may put in a portfolio here on this site. So you shouldn't put complete works on line (irrespective of whether they're novels or short stories) unless you're looking to self-publish. Extracts from a work in progress are usually OK, especially if you're looking for feedback. But do it in a closed group, not one which is open to everyone on the net.
  5. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Inkling

    Firstly, trust me, no one goes and steals ideas like that. Plus, ideas are cheap, one of the 8 billion other people in the world has had the same idea as you. But most ideas never get made. And when they are made, they're wildly different. Your writing style and life experiences are uniquely yours, so any story you write wouldn't be able to be replicated by someone else. Plus, any serious writer has plenty ideas of what to write. They're not going to steal it from some tiny forum lol.

    It's very common that friends and family aren't interested in writing, or if they are, probably not to the same level as you. I'm very lucky in that my sister also likes to write and she's one of my most trusted sources for feedback and ideas.

    Like any hobby or skill, you need to find communities and make friends and connections there. It can be forums, it can be usenet groups, it can be your local writing club, etc etc. I write fanfiction along with my own stuff, and I've made friends by following writers I like on twitter/tumblr.

    There's two ways to seek outside feedback: critique and beta reading. When you want a critique, you post a small part of your story (or your whole short story). Usually it's best to post your beginning, since that's what readers and agents are going to judge the hardest (and whatever issues are there, are most likely in the rest of your work). This is the best way to get lots of different opinions. A forum like this is great for that. What you post should be something you've already gone over at least once before, it shouldn't be a "raw" first draft. It should be something that you've done all the things you can think to do to improve it but you want that outside input.

    Beta reading, on the other hand, can be various stages of editing. It can be very raw stuff, it can be the last version right before line-by-line editing. But You're having someone read your piece start-to-finish and giving you feedback on larger issues, like pacing, character arcs etc. It takes a lot of time and effort to do this! And you want to make sure your beta reader is a fan of that genre, too. Ideally, you do a swap, and you each do each other's manuscripts. Or you owe them one when they have something ready for that stage, since it is A Lot.
    kalencap likes this.
  6. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    About the time you can get a bunch of people to critique your entire work, you're probably well on your way, LOL. Another thing is that other writers can be some of the worst people to ask for opinions. There are many reasons for this, but suffice to say, no matter who you ask, your greatest skill will be figuring out who and what NOT to listen to. Not so different than a grammar checker with its comma advice, heh heh.

    The biggest questions are: Do you understand story and can you write? Do you understand a scene? Do you understand what it needs to do? On some innate level I think most people understand story, but few translate the innate into a final product without heavy contemplation.

    I am a bit of a contrarian when it comes to common wisdom, and part of that is I recommend posting sample chapters and taking the hard hits of critique before you finish a book. Develop your style and voice. Fret not the theft of idea, it's a waste of energy and hampers your efforts. There is nothing new under the sun, only different spins, and it takes more than a few spins to finish a novel; no one will spin quite like you. Screenplays are riskier, but even then, the risk is greater of concurrent creation than theft, due to the formulaic and limited nature of screenplays.
    kalencap likes this.
  7. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

    Well now, this applies to everyone, right? Not just you, the prospective writer, but also to all other writers—and to all readers!

    Maybe you have a tendency to view yourself with such a critical, minimizing eye while viewing others too generously. This leaves you feeling wanting, limited, in danger of appearing weak and silly to all others. Rest assured, very few others are in any better shape. We are all of us limited. We have narrow perspectives, even if (and maybe especially if) we don't personally feel we do. (And many of us do feel we do.)

    This is something like the imposter syndrome. You come to the blank page feeling like an imposter, the greats of literature supposedly came to a blank page already great, and you sense this disparity. I'd say, rest easy, relax, and just write, because few writers have felt differently. (Indeed, some of the worst writers entirely lack this internal censor, heh.)

    To some extent, this may be a result of a lack of experience reading in your chosen field. If it's fantasy, read more fantasy. Learn what is out there. Learn what has been done to death. Learn to spot horrible writing and great writing, and to know the difference. This will give you more confidence. This is training your internal censor to be on your side and not against you.

    Unfortunately, you can't figure this out until you do it. But the world is vast, the potential audience is vast, and now, especially when more people exist in a more easily accessible audience, varied niches are popping up all over the place. You can't please everyone all the time, but there almost certainly exists a set of people you can please.

    Sometimes I think new writers view their efforts in an either/or style. Either they will become Greats reaching millions of readers, or they will fail utterly. This is the wrong way to view the future. You don't need to sell millions of copies of a single novel to become successful as a writer. You don't need to please everyone who shops on Amazon.

    I don't have much more to say about sharing your work; I'll let others cover that.
  8. This should be acknowledged and celebrated! A huge first step! Now keep going. All that trudging you've done is going to pay off with or without critique going hand in hand with it. :)

    I agree with others above. Yes, please don't worry so much about theft!! No one will tell the same story as you and anyone who would actually steal an idea to that degree is likely not capable of writing it to any form of completion.

    The biggest mistake I used to make as a writer was to compare my own work to the printed pages of my favorite authors who, I came to realize, had far more editing help and passes of revision executed under a knowing, professional and watchful eye than myself. While I learned a lot from reading and studying other writers, its always been critique which made the most difference in my writing growth. So, DO seek it, but seek it wisely and not randomly. In the acknowledgments of a book I read last year, the author thanked her good friend/editor for making her scrap and rewrite the first eight chapters of her final draft, even when the author herself believed they were solid and done. That's a published author admitting she needed someone else with an outside eye to show her what needed redone. It's also a case of deep trust, which is only built over time.

    We DO need critique and outside help, but you are right to want a small, select group, especially at an early stage when you yourself are feeling insecure and finding your way into writing a novel.

    So, how to cultivate that?

    What I believe you don't need to rely on are family and friends. Not unless they really want to read your work and are familiar with the genre you work in and something they already read/love. If a third cousin is a romance reader and you're writing sci fi, it's likely a waste of time for you both. And while friends and family, no doubt, want to offer encouragement and support to those they love, they are also the least likely to have the proper distance and ability to offer a solid, and somewhat distant critique. (Unless you have an actual writer or teacher in the bunch!)

    Outside of that, anyone you trust and who you think can be a good source of critique and who can follow direction when you give it, is a keeper. And yes, you should be able to offer pointed direction and tell your readers what you want from them.

    My small group of alpha readers (four) was whittled down from postings where I asked for general critique on a writing blog (yes, I go way back to the active blogging days.) It was helpful, but the three I ended up keeping for future work came from a hundred or so over those few years of posting. The experience made me realize I had to give a little more guidance if only to save people from going off on long tangents about things which had no connection to what I wanted feedback on. The only one I know personally is my wife. She's the best critic I could ask for; brutally honest, pointed, but always with her offered reasoning and potential fixes when they arise. She's a wicked good editor to boot. The others are lovely people who I keep somewhat distant from beyond the critique scenario because I never want them to let familiarity affect the honesty I seek. But that's me. In time, I came to where I would put my work out to them with a request to answer four questions. No more.

    Many of us tend to offer (hand raised with a blushing guilt) far more than we should when it's not been asked for. Mostly we do this out of a true desire to help, but its also born out of our being used to people throwing work up and asking for wide open critique which, even if every aspect of the critique were dead on, is not always as helpful for a writer, especially one new to getting their feet under them. Small, narrow focus is better to facilitate improvement. You can't climb the mountain without focusing on each small step in between.

    The four questions I ask my alpha readers to answer without giving me anything more are:

    What bores you?
    What is confusing?
    What isn't believable?
    What’s cool/interesting? (So I don’t accidentally “fix” it.)

    The reason I keep it to those four questions is, unless the person reading is another writer, and one far more accomplished than myself, or someone who teaches writing, or works in the field professionally, I don't want them drifting into areas which I consider to be made up of the "clean up" work of later drafts. Punctuation, tags, usage, POV consistency, detailed prose and description, format etc. I KNOW my first draft won't have all of that nailed down nor do I want it to because those early drafts, for me, are about looser ideas and bare bones outlines.

    However you find those people in your world, be clear about what you are asking for. If you go through the critique forum here, you'll see everything from two line book pitches to full blown chapters. Know what you want when you ask for a critique and then be prepared, depending on the outlet/site/community/group, to have a great number of people not stick to your guidelines anyway. That's good too, but file those extras away for later and never let them discourage you from moving forward.

    Like everything else in writing, I believe in dig before you sculpt. You have to be willing to get in and get dirty! In doing so with critiques, seek out those who will understand your process and who won't judge your early versions as if they are reading a published book.

    I wish you a world of success!
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    >One who isn't very confident in their work, ideas, experiences
    There really isn't anything else you could be more confident in than in what is your own. That's what you know, or at least it's what's closest to you.

    As others have said, don't worry about anyone stealing your ideas. Ideas are cheap. The world is littered with them and none of them matter. Not a one. What matters is execution, not idea. You can have an idea for a device, but until you build that device, it's worth nothing. In our case, ideas don't matter, only stories matter. Once you have written a story, you might fret someone would take the entire work and publish it under their own name. It happens. But it won't happen until you have both written and published.

    No matter what you write, someone is going to be reminded of some other work. Nothing is wholly original. At the same time, though, no matter how derivative, it will be new to someone. We've all read our first Farm Boy of Destiny novel. That's not the one we complain about.

    So, write your story. That's first. Write it for yourself. Make yourself happy. Come up to your own standards before you try meeting anyone else's.

    As Demesnedenoir said, once you've done that, you'll be well on your way to knowing where to find beta readers and critique groups. But heed the warning: a critique group means you're reading and commenting on the work of others. That's salutary; I learned some important stuff that way. But it's incredibly time-consuming.

    Good luck and go write!
  10. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Maester

    No matter what idea you come up with for your novel someone has come up with it before. In fact, chances are good that your idea has already been put down on paper (or electronic device) but because that person doesn't have the money for an agent it's sitting in a slush pile somewhere or it's on a site that allows authors to self-publish their work.

    The key thing that's important is for you to get on with writing the first draft of your novel. Once that is done that is time to seek the opinion of others who can offer practical advice, find grammatical and other errors that are likely to annoy publishers, comb it for anything that could potentially get you sued if you live in the United States and tell you if the story passes the "Is this worth spending my money on?" test.

    Now I'm off to work out how to introduce a shoe shine girl and a mage masquerading as a minstrel in my first draft of my novel....
  11. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Archmage

    It doesn't take money to get an agent. Literary agents don't charge authors anything up front. They take a commission instead, once the book is sold to a publisher.

    What it does take to get an agent is lots of time and effort and perhaps a little luck. I've never gone through the process myself, but I've certainly read about how it's done. Authors who don't have agents are authors who haven't bothered looking for one, or who've searched but not had their search pan out. Money isn't a factor.

    If anyone tells you that you have to pay them up front to be your agent, they're scamming you.
    skip.knox likes this.
  12. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Archmage

    The shoe shine girl offers to shine the minstrel's shoes, and the minstrel/mage lets some magic accidentally slip? :D
  13. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

    Just about every new writer worries that their idea will be pinched if they reveal it too soon. As others have said there's nothing new under the sun and, in all likelihood, your idea has already been done before - numerous times. There are many millions of books out there and no-one can know all of them.

    The other reason not to worry about people taking your ideas is that writers are always so focussed on their own ideas that that they'll barely notice yours (from a time and focus consuming perspective).

    As for crit groups or beta readers, never try to push your work on friends and family. If they're not already interested they never will be until you make some objective progress in the writing world. I could never muster any interest from friends or family until I finally had a book accepted (after 15 years of trying). As soon as that happened they at last took me seriously and wanted to read everything. I actually have to bat them off with the proverbial shitty stick these days but it was a long and humiliating journey.

    Find your own community is my advice.
    kalencap likes this.
  14. kalencap

    kalencap Acolyte

    In my own experience I’ve gone both local group route and completely online route for first two novels. The face to face groups tend to be gentler overall IMO. Also, you can always specify your preferences for more encouraging feedback online. That won’t guarantee that 100%, but it mitigates the percentage of harshness a bit. F & F will usually be too kind or razor sharp if responsive at all, so suggest other writers. Offering critiques of others in community is best way to recruit others to your story IMO. Best wishes on your first journey with this.

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