5 Things I’ve Learned About Feedback

Earlier this  year, I was accepted into a project that gives six playwrights the opportunity to get feedback on a play. We meet once a month to learn from professional writers and talk about our texts, all the while writing new drafts to make them better. Here’s what I’ve learned about feedback:

1. Others will see what you have missed.
Everyone’s experiences and lives are different, so getting feedback in a group will show you different interpretations of your text. You’ll get access to worlds and opinions you couldn’t otherwise reach, which is extremely valuable. I’ve learned most of my strengths and weaknesses as a writer from feedback.

2. First, accept all feedback.
Writing is a sensitive art, I know. When you first get feedback, try to listen to every opinion. They’re all possible interpretations. If someone points out that they didn’t understand your text, don’t get too defensive. See if there’s something you can do about it. Also, sometimes it’s better to take feedback quietly. Don’t start defending your work out loud.

3. Next, choose what feedback you want to accept.
If you’re in a group, there’s always someone who doesn’t like all the things that are crucial to your text. When you’ve got your feedback, really go through what advice you want to use to make your text better and what’s just trying to write a different text. Someone told you they didn’t like first person narrators in your story – fine, but why should you change them? Remember that feedback is the subjective point of view of one person.

I was once in a group where one person said he didn’t believe my story and that my characters were cold and didn’t care about each other. I had a blast watching the other group members defend my work, saying they read it in an exactly opposite way. Stick to what you think is important! Most readers will respond to that.

4. Defend your text on paper.
You don’t have to explain yourself out loud when getting feedback. Instead, rewrite your text to show what advice you want to take on and what you want to discard. If you like the first person narrator, keep it. If you think yes, my story should have more conflict, write more conflict. Your work will reflect your decisions and make it better – and that’s why we give and get feedback.

5. Give respectful feedback.
This will make an entire post later, but in short: give your feedback well. Point out the positive things; give general comments on issues that could be developed; point out some small details you both like and wish the writer to improve; return to summarise the good in the text. Ask questions and give broad suggestions instead of saying do this, not that. Remember that you’re giving critique on a text that’s important to the writer – treat them both with respect.

Give and get feedback well, and your text will become so much better.

Love,
Aino.

NaNoWriMo 2014: I did It!

Today on the 24th of November 2014 I finally validated my NaNoWriMo novel.

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Those of you who’ve won before, you know this feeling. And you, who are still waiting for your win: it will feel amazing. It’s both confusing and wonderful.

My story went ways I never expected it to. I don’t know if I want to rewrite it someday, but first I’m going to focus on editing the novel I’ve been working on since April.

I still can’t believe I don’t have to write today. Unless of course this has boosted my creative mind – which it has. But I can leave this story for a while and focus on all those other projects that have been buzzing in my brain lately.

On a sidenote, today’s the premiere of a cabaret I co-wrote with a group. I also act in it, so today’s full of excitement!

Love,
Aino.

NaNoWriMo 2014: The Pros and Cons of Meetings

This November, I’m in charge of organising NaNoWriMo write-in meetings in my home town. So far, we’ve had one unofficial and one official meeting. Here are some thoughts on meeting up to write.

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Nothing will make you feel better than achieving your dreams in public. Libraries and smart-looking cafés are perfect for write-ins.

As others write, so will you.
No one wants to be the one to interrupt perfect workflow, so once you find the right pace, it will last longer than if you were writing at home.

Peer support is important.
There are other writers who are going through exactly the same emotions. Talking about your writing might solve some of your problems – and you meet awesome people in the process.

The group will motivate you into finishing what you started.
Making public declarations on where you want to be will make sure you get there. If you’re thinking about giving up on your NaNo, a meeting can help you change your mind. I mean, who’d want to give up that community willingly?

Some people write better in solitude.
Some writers will get really tense in group situations. Make sure to organise the writing space so that no one can actually see your computer screen. If that doesn’t help, it’s all right: not everyone can work with other people around them. Attend meetings for the occasional chat or organise exciting word war sprints (with prizes!) for other participants. Try writing with headphones on. If you find that write-ins aren’t for you, don’t feel worse for it. You’re doing yourself a favour by writing where you’re comfortable.

Groups tend to talk. A lot.
In our meetings, we basically talk for an hour and then start writing. Sometimes we talk some more, if we all take a break from typing at the same time. While this is beneficial for your social life, slow and pondering writers might find it frustrating: Starting is difficult and you have to worry that you’ll get interrupted.
I myself am a writer who’s mastered the questionable skill of BSing through entire chapters with lightning speeds, so occasional chatting is a welcome breather.

Competition is good, as long as it doesn’t make you feel worse.
Writing the occasional quickfire word war at meetings can really boost your word count and morale – as long as you remember that they’re meant to be fun. Stop comparing your results to others. Remember that everyone writes differently and everyone’s skills are different. As long as you’re writing, you’re doing NaNo right.

So go to meetings, share your experiences and remember to be supportive. Everyone has already succeeded by taking on a challenge many will never even dream of.

Love,
Aino.

NaNoWriMo 2014: Mixed Feelings

We’re halfway through November and National Novel Writing Month. I have to say, my feelings towards my writing are very… shall we say, mixed. Why?

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Writer fuel.

It’s going really well.
I’m well ahead of the daily wordcount goals: my current total is about 35,000. I’ve managed to write anything between 1-6k a day.

My writing is horrible.
I know it’s supposed to be that way, and I am pantsing, which means I have no clue where my story is going, but come on! It’s going in all directions with most of my characters either staring at each other or freezing to their positions in shock. Oh, and sometimes they even storm out of rooms. Mm-hmm, I know. That bad.

Writing horribly is kind of what I want to achieve.
It sounds crazy, but it makes perfect sense. I’m very good at achieving things and making them happen, but a lot of the time I bring myself down in the process. Before, I couldn’t ever settle for anything less than perfect, so it’s taken me a long time to learn how to make mistakes. Now that I have, I want to keep making them to make myself better. Do you get what I mean? So writing bad stuff isn’t worrying me.

I have no idea what’s going on.
So far, my characters have managed to see the roof of their theatre cave in; develop crippling addictions; run away from everything and everyone; fall in love with each other; make life-long friends; dump a body; piss off some really bad people… I have no idea what they’re doing or whether any of this will make any sense!

I’ve challenged myself.
I decided that I was going to jump between scenes to get them written, so I’ve only dealt with the deliciously juicy and finger-twitching action. So really, what do I have to worry about? I’ve always written my nanos in a chronological or linear manner, never skipping ahead or going back to write more of what made a character a certain way. Now I have and it’s surprisingly liberating.

All’s well then.

Love always,
Aino.

Pick of the Month, Writer’s Guide Edition: No Plot? No Problem!

The world of writer’s guides is massive. Some are brilliant, some good, some… well, absolutely horrible. Every month, I’ll recommend some of my favourite writer’s guides. Do you read writing guides? Which have been most helpful, and which do you disagree with?

My very obvious writer’s guide pick for November is No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing A Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty. Baty is the founder of NaNoWriMo, my favourite ever writing event. My version is the 2014 revised, updated and expanded version.

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instagram.com/ainotuulia

One of the most valuable lessons to be taken from No Plot? No Problem! (besides the obvious lesson from the title) is that writers can accomplish almost anything once they start writing.

“It felt like we’d stumbled through a portal into a giddy netherworld, a Narnia for grown-ups where hours passed like seconds and the most outrageous and wonderful things you could imagine became real.” p. 18

Baty has a lot of faith in the writing mind, and it shows in his love for the magic that we call writing. In addition to the appreciation, the advice he shares is very down to earth. Quotes from other nanoists are full of great tips, but also laughter. I mean, nothing creates a sense of community like the shared realisation that we are absolutely insane for taking on such a project. In what other situations have you found yourself thinking: “Buy extra underwear for your entire family in October”?

Baty’s book is everything he asks you as a novelist to accomplish. The book is approximately 50,000 words in length. Baty’s respect for writing comes through in his text, and his love for words makes the book an excellent read. While writing a novel in 30 days is a challenge to be taken seriously, Baty shows with his own example that it doesn’t mean it has to be serious all the time. No Plot? No Problem! manages to entertain and teach at the same time.

I haven’t posted anything this week, I’m sorry! NaNoWriMo took over. I’ll outline my progress for you later.

Love,
Aino.