Remember I asked you to send me your questions about writing memoir, stories from you life or about your family?
Well, a reader asked the following:
Something I struggle with is knowing when to ask for feedback on my writing (or more honestly, being willing to show others something that I don’t feel is already in a pretty good place and near “complete”) and also who to ask to read it. Is it better to ask someone to read writing when it is still in pretty rough draft form to get feedback and insight early? And is it more likely to be helpful to ask someone with a more objective viewpoint rather than those who are in the story?
What thought-provoking questions! Many people writing about their lives or their families have asked me similar ones.
I’ll take the second part of the question first.
I would never ask someone who’s in the story to read my draft early on. At that point, I’m still working out what I want to say and how I want to say it, so characters in my story don’t get a say. What if they were to tell me they didn’t want me to write the piece at all?
Here’s another perspective on that topic:
As for the first part of your question:
My response is an emphatic: Show your work only when you have made it as good as you can on your own.
I say this because sometimes well-meaning reviewers will offer suggestions that take your story far from its original premise. They might want you to address this topic, delete that one, or add a lot of background information that doesn’t really add anything to the story. And your reviewers should be those whose instincts, insights, and intelligence you trust—and whose literary interests are similar to yours. If you write personal essays, don’t ask someone who only reads fantasy novels to give you feedback.
In my classes we all write in the same genre, read that genre, and appreciate that genre, so our feedback is relevant. Members of the classes and I, myself, will offer very useful comments even on a rough-ish draft. (I always urge writers to take writing classes. A friend of mine who has published at least eight well-received books still takes writing classes in her genre!)
Before I submit any of my work for publication (and I have a pretty good track record) I have it reviewed by serious accomplished writers or by a professional freelance editor. They can let me know if something I’ve written isn’t clear and occasionally suggest a better word or phrase than I have used. But even then, I’m selective about which of their comments I accept.
As always, I suggest you take a look at Women Writing on Family. For more help, click on Family Troubles: Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family in the column on the right side of this post. It’s a an excellent resource.
I hope you find these responses useful. If you want to add or disagree with anything, just leave a comment. And if you don’t know everything you need to know about writing about your life or your family, send me your questions.
If you need help writing about your life or your family, just check out my Testimonials and get in touch through my Contact tab. I’m knowledgeable and very easy to work with.