Here’s the nightmare in a nutshell. You kill yourself writing a story. It’s the best you can do. You have your opinions about it, but you need to know what others think so you solicit responses from a few readers, and invariably some of them disagree with your own assessment of the work.
Now what? If there’s no objective way to determine who’s subjective opinion is correct, your tendency will probably be to think you’re right, which puts you back where you started. Alternatively, if you’re have little self-esteem or self-confidence, you may assume your readers are right about everything, but that’s just blindness in another guise.
To make matters much worse, if you’re a beginning writer, all of this uncertainty gets magnified by a bazillion. Why? Because you and your readers have no craft knowledge in common which you can use to discuss your opinions. Whatever your ability as a nascent writer, the work you produce will necessarily be driven by a mix of native gifts and capacity for mimicry, rather than by craft-based decisions. If your readers are also new to the craft of storytelling, their responses will also be devoid of craft: “I didn’t like it,” or “I didn’t get it,” or “I wanted more,” etc. And even if you’re lucky enough to have experienced readers, how are you going to know how to respond to or judge their feedback if you don’t share their level of craft knowledge?
— Mark Barrett
Vincent Eaton says
I’ve been in several writing workshops and writer’s groups. It usually worked out that out of, say, 8 readers, 2 would be completely on the wavelength of the story/novel/book; special attention was given to them. Those with little experience were indeed generic in their appraisal, and the more experienced more discerning. Yet it could be as unhelpful. It’s a crap shoot, and, after one has one’s voice, a distraction. But, in the beginning, a needed feedback and social framework. But something to grow out of with confidence, and, as mentioned, the discovering and nurturing of one’s own voice. Again: it’s those who are on the wavelength of the story who are valuable to pay most attention to in their critiques.
I don’t disagree, particularly regarding questions about one’s story as a whole. But even people who may not ‘get’ what you’re doing can provide useful feedback about specifics. Maybe they tripped over a sentence and you suddenly see how to fix it. Maybe they were put off by an assumption you made: if you change your assumption, you potentially open the work up to more readers.
Still, as noted more than once in these posts on workshops, there’s nothing more valuable than a trusted reader, and finding people who understand what you’re trying to do is invaluable. (That the web allows such relationships to continue after a workshop ends is also a boon. Back in the day, when people were gone, they were gone.)