As promised, I wanted to keep you up-to-date with my writing process. I am at that wonderful stage in my first manuscript where I have written, rewritten, revised and reduced and definitely now need someone else’s objective eye to help me take the draft to the next step. I certainly feel more comfortable with the word feedback for this activity, as opposed to critique. Not being the most thick-skinned of individuals, the latter already has me on the defensive, back against wall, manuscript clutched protectively to chest! (I know, I know I am working on getting over the red pen recollections ;)). Even the most experienced writers still seek out input for their work. Emma recently did a great blog post about appropriate parameters and expectations if you are going to enter into a feedback partnership or group.
At this stage I am being pretty cautious about choosing those to whom I will show my work. I will certainly be seeking the help of a professional editor, but first I took the advice from my writer’s course, JWFK, and sought out a different appraisal group; a group of Grade 2 kids from the school where I work. I didn’t know a group of 7 year-olds could get me so nervous. I had made a dummy picture book from my manuscript, having manually cut and pasted the sentences fairly evenly spread over just under 32 pages (no illustrations, well Ok I cheated, I did stick a picture of my protagonist onto the front cover so the students had something to identify with). The class was not all mother-tongue English, which I knew could be a challenge for some of the vocabulary I had chosen to use, but they were excited about having their opinion valued by a “writer” and they listened attentively. I surreptitiously observed the group the entire time, looking for telltale signs of boredom or miscomprehension. One word did provoke a “what does …….. mean?” but I was impressed with how they handled the other difficult words through the context. They have a wonderful feedback system already in place, “Two Stars and a Wish” or two pieces of encouragement and one area for improvement.
There was a general dichotomy between what the girls and boys liked. The boys loved the pivotal moment which is action driven, and they wanted many more details here than I had included! The girls liked the more creative and relational moments. They gave me one or two clear areas for improvement, above all where I had been too reductionist in my text. Their non-verbal feedback was also priceless, showing me a central section that needed truncating and simplifying. I can’t emphasize enough how valuable this exercise of reading your text to a group of children is. Reading to your target audience is a sure-fire way to test if your story is truly child-centered. Of course not all advice can be taken on board. The story is about a sea otter and one little girl wanted to add lots more animals. I couldn’t quite visualize her kitten in my plot!
My next feedback giver will be a 12-year-old multi-lingual Italian, whom I have tutored for years. She is a gifted writer, creative writing being our favorite subject of all those we study together. I can trust her for some honest and humorous evaluation.