Is it useful to get writing feedback from friends & family?

James Bridie

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#1
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Of course it's possible to get anonymous or impersonal feedback from writers' groups, forums or even from professional advisors. Yet, there is maybe part of you that would like some sort of feedback from known people such as friends and family. I suppose it is partly because, since they know you, they could maybe give feedback in a way that would particularly resonate or get the most out of you. Yet there are dangers of embarrassment and disgruntlement if the reaction is less than positive.

Does anyone here have any particularly positive experiences to inspire, or negative ones to avoid?
 
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-K2-

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#2
I see your point, however I have found that often 'writer's groups' sometimes finds individuals who have little interest in the story (so disregard it) focusing upon what their pet-peeve is, and others want to debate it in that 'they would have' done it this way or that.

As to friends and family, I've found them however to be the least advantageous in actually helping me to improve and advance. Either they're so supportive and want to encourage you by praising every aspect, or they have been so self serving that they want to squash your desire to be creative, seeking for you to focus upon them, or whatever (would rather not go into it).

So my experiences regarding either scenario up to this point have been less than stellar.

K2
 

James Bridie

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#4
I see your point, however I have found that often 'writer's groups' sometimes finds individuals who have little interest in the story (so disregard it) focusing upon what their pet-peeve is, and others want to debate it in that 'they would have' done it this way or that.

As to friends and family, I've found them however to be the least advantageous in actually helping me to improve and advance. Either they're so supportive and want to encourage you by praising every aspect, or they have been so self serving that they want to squash your desire to be creative, seeking for you to focus upon them, or whatever (would rather not go into it).

So my experiences regarding either scenario up to this point have been less than stellar.

K2
Thanks -K2- I had not thought of the first of those (writers' groups).
For the friends and family, those are some of the pitfalls I imagined, and interesting to here they do happen.
 

-K2-

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#6
Oh P.S.: Remember, on writing sites, most people are not there to read, but write. Granted, we all write to be read, yet many folks (sadly myself included), find themselves not really getting into a story as much as a dedicated reader in that they have their own projects they're concentrating on.

Something to keep in mind when you're wanting something to be read.

K2
 

The Judge

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#8
Leaving aside the personalities and/or relationship dynamics involved, the main disadvantage of asking family and friends for feedback is that for many of us their opinion is worth diddly-squat. Their thoughts as an ordinary reader might be of some help -- provided they are completely honest, which isn't always a given -- in that being told they lost interest at one point, or they hated a character, may point you towards larger problems. But that requires them to be able to pinpoint what they did or didn't like and express it in a way that can suggest a path forward. But even if they are avid readers of the genre in which you write, they're unlikely to be able to help with technical issues such as POV, which might need to be sorted out.

A lot depends on what you want to do with your writing. Imagine that instead of writing you're talking of painting. If you're happy to bumble about and just enjoy yourself and perhaps give enjoyment to a few others at an annual amateur show in the local village hall, then all you need is family and friends to say if they like your paintings, and there's no need to worry about perspective or anything technical. If on the other hand you want to have something in the Royal Academy summer exhibition, you have to master technicalities so you need to learn and be critiqued by people who know what they're talking about. (OK, the analogy might fall down if we're speaking of modern art and unmade beds and the like -- think real art in this context! ;))

If you want your writing to be the best it can be, my advice is to find people with whom you can connect, who write in your genre, who read a lot, and whose ability is about the same as your own, or preferably a little higher. One way to find them is to join a writing group in real life, if one is available; another -- and to my mind the better way -- is to cultivate members here and form a writing group with them, online if need be. The path to this latter way is to join in Critiques by offering feedback on other members' work and then by putting pieces of your own work up when the magic 30 posts have been achieved. From there take it slowly, make friends, and find members whose opinions you respect and whose work you'd be happy to critique in your turn -- because all of this is dependent on reciprocity. I'm pretty sure that this is how Jo has found many, if not all, of her beta readers. (EDIT: Ah, Jo has replied while I've been typing, so that's sorted out!)

For what it's worth, my writing group experience is mixed. The small group -- there are only 3 of us -- which arose from our membership here is excellent for feedback (and for friendship, general gossip and cake!!) but erratic in actual meeting, so we may go months without getting any critiques, though we then can plough through up to 10-20,000 words for each of us, and sometimes more. In addition, we can give help and advice online if it's needed between meetings, and since the other two have MAs in creative writing they know what they're doing. The local group I joined at the end of last year is religious in having meetings every month save in the summer, but pieces are limited to 500 words per session, the other members are a very mixed bag of abilities, and most of them are writing YA or children's books which I don't read or know much about, limiting my enjoyment of the work involved and my ability to help beyond obvious issues.
 

James Bridie

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#9
Thanks, The Judge. That's very insightful. As you say it's a technical thing and 'non technical' readers may 'know what they like' but not know how to make something better. The painting analogy is good and I also call to mind music or films - I can reconise when someone has done some neat 'bridge' or crescendo, but I wouldn't know where to start fixing it or knowing to suggest it if it was broken or missing.

Also your point about what you want to do with your writing - also the purpose of seeking feedback - maybe there is an element of wanting to share something (possible hitherto hidden) with the said friends/family, but that need/desire needs to be separated from the need for constructive/technical feedback.
 
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#10
Several points:

Friends and family can hear your voice in the words. And knowing you they know how you would read them, which places emotion into the words that a casual reader might not get.

Added to that they have a personal relationship to you, so they'll be kind. In short, they are not unbiased.

To that I'll add the advice Ben Bova gave my son: "Forget friends. Give your work to someone who doesn't like you. If you can make them say it's good you may have something."
 
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#11
Anyone who is willing to read your WIP and politely comment is invaluable, regardless of who they are. You never know who is going to see something that will help you improve your work.

What you do with their feedback is the question.
 

Cathbad

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#12
I asked someone who clearly didn't like e to check out my first manuscript (had to bribe him with a lunch). I was very pleased with his response. "Let me know when you get it published!"

My family and friends were way too supportive - so to hear this guy tell me he liked it was very encouraging!
 

Steve Harrison

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#13
I have two readers; my wife and a professional novelist friend. My wife is by far the scarier of the two!

I'm happy for other family and friends to read my work, but only if they ask and I make it clear I have no expectation for them to comment. The feedback I have had from them over the years has been extremely positive. I just assume the are being polite and while that's nice, I don't attach any importance to it.
 

janeoreilly

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#14
I don't show my stuff to family or friends, my husband has read my books after they've been published (I think he just likes to wave the books around on the train on his way to work TBH) but my family don't actually know that I've written anything or had it published. At this point I don't use beta readers at all and my agent is the first person to look at anything, and she doesn't see it until I've written multiple drafts. As others have said, the problem is that family are not necessarily the best people to get opinions from because they can't be objective and often just don't have the necessary skills to help you beyond saying that they like or don't like something. It can help you get over the hurdle of showing your work to people which can be a difficult thing to do but in terms of improving the writing there are probably better people to ask.
 

James Bridie

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#15
Thanks for all these replies, all very insightful, and a broad pattern emerging. I guess it could be asking a lot of people you know, to bear the weight of your hopes and expectations, and they may not know how to pitch a response if it's not their 'cup of tea' or if the state of the work is 'beyond their help'.

On reflection I guess we seek answers to questions such as, (i) do you like it, (ii) is it any good, (iii) is it publishable? (one does not necessarily lead to the next) and people you know are not necessarily able to judge so much about (ii) and (iii). If someone happens to not like your style or genre (e.g. sci fi) then you're off to a bad start...
 

TheDustyZebra

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#16
I don't like for people to see anything until it's done, and done means published or ready to publish. My family is useless at understanding my stuff, and would be worse at being able to help with anything.

I have a handful of beta readers, gleaned from here over the years, who are fabulous and owed truckloads of cake when I'm rich and famous, and they don't let me get away with anything.
 

James Bridie

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#17
I don't like for people to see anything until it's done, and done means published or ready to publish. My family is useless at understanding my stuff, and would be worse at being able to help with anything.

I have a handful of beta readers, gleaned from here over the years, who are fabulous and owed truckloads of cake when I'm rich and famous, and they don't let me get away with anything.
Thanks TheDustyZebra, but how do those two different angles fit?

Does it mean you (only) show it to beta readers (only) when it is already ready to publish?

Or does it mean you show it to beta readers earlier, despite the fact you "don't like" this?
 

Brian G Turner

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#18
What you need is technical feedback, which means getting critical opinions from people familiar with the genre and the writing process.

However, before you even get to that stage you need to understand the technicalities yourself, otherwise you won't understand the feedback you get. Have a look at Brandon Sanderon's writing lectures and/or read Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer so that you can understand the technical side of writing sooner rather than later.
 

James Bridie

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#19
What you need is technical feedback, which means getting critical opinions from people familiar with the genre and the writing process.

However, before you even get to that stage you need to understand the technicalities yourself, otherwise you won't understand the feedback you get. Have a look at Brandon Sanderon's writing lectures and/or read Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer so that you can understand the technical side of writing sooner rather than later.
Thanks Brian
 

Guillermo Stitch

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#20
Anyone who is willing to read your WIP and politely comment is invaluable, regardless of who they are. You never know who is going to see something that will help you improve your work.

What you do with their feedback is the question.

I'd go with this. I sometimes get feedback via a well-known writing workshop website (not sure if we're allowed to name them here) and it's like offering your work for criticism in a public square. There are people of all ages, nationalities, levels of experience and preferences (although the orthodoxy of commercial fiction is strong).

Even people who don't seem to have 'got' what I wrote can have something useful to say. Even people who's input I'm not going to act upon have a contribution to make.
 
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