A Writer’s Secret Weapon: Honest Feedback

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When I wrote a short story for a contest a few months ago I gave it to my wife and to a friend for feedback. They both love to read, but I hadn’t anticipated the results.

My wife felt comfortable telling me that it was terrible. My friend just said it was alright.

I thought they would both say something similar, but my wife ended up giving me the feedback I needed in order to rework my story. She was right. The original one didn’t work.

Paying $15 to enter a lousy story into a contest is not my goal.

Just about every article that passes the “wife test” is accepted by an editor or at least receives praise. One story, that passed the wife test, even received an honorable mention in a Glimmer Train contest.

I’m lucky to have such a talented reader in my home that I can trust implicitly to provide honest feedback. She is my secret weapon who has saved me a lot of disappointment and frustration in the long run.

I have read similar stories from writers who rely heavily upon one trusted reader who is sometimes a spouse and other times a member of a critique group. Keep in mind that a spouse is not always the best choice for feedback.

What to look for in a reader:

  • Interest in the same subject matter.
  • Attention to the details in your genre (eg. what makes for a good plot in a novel).
  • Trust and comfort to tell you the truth.

No writer can catch all of his/her mistakes. If there’s a hole in an argument, a weak point in the plot, or an explanation that falls flat, oftentimes an attentive and critical reader is one of the safest bets in finding them. If you’re waiting for an editor to catch your mistakes, chances are you’ll just receive a form letter saying, “Your work does not meet our current needs.”

That could be a clue that you really need better feedback before you submit your work.

3 thoughts on “A Writer’s Secret Weapon: Honest Feedback

  1. very good, Ed. Thank you!

    I may call on you to be my reading buddy…

    (just posted my list of “writer’s action words” … have you checked it out?

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  2. Keep in mind that I called my wife a secret weapon… Weapons may hurt! 😉

    I did see the action word list, but then I get consumed by your interview where you were “McKracken” some great jokes. I’d totally go to McDonald’s for either version of the McKracken sandwich. You had some nice word choice in that interview by the way.

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  3. You hit the nail on the head. I really value my friends who give me honest feedback, even when it hurts, and I try to provide the same type of feedback for other writers. I’ve found there are way to be tactful without sacrificing the criticisms that need to be expressed.

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