Saturday, April 17, 2010
Had I ever had a mentor? What did I read when I was young? Had I ever published a book in which there were mistakes? How could I be sure that I wasn't copying anyone? What is the difference between an essay and a memoiristic essay? How long does it take to write books? Where does one go for ideas? How many times had I ever given a talk? Had I ever met Stephanie Meyers? Was I friends with J.K. Rowling? How does it feel to...?
And then, this morning, this: How do you get people to give you criticism on your work instead of just saying "I like it" or "It's good?"
To which I say this: I rarely share my work-in-progress, but when I do, I hope for a conversation, not a mere "sounds good." (And oh, I've often gotten that mere and deflating "sounds good.") It can't be forced (just as one cannot force another to listen keenly), but I find that if you ask your reader at the right time (when he or she isn't already caught up in an idea of his or her own), if you make it clear what kind of response you're hoping for, if you delineate the questions you may still have and the input you are seeking—if you prepare your reader, in other words, before he or she starts to read—you have your best shot at a meaningful response.
It's not easy giving criticism. It takes time, it can get dicey, it can shift a mood, or even a friendship. It's up to the writer to make the conversation safe for the reader.