A Writer’s Need for Feedback – What it means to have a good first reader

This is the second in my monthly series of posts about writing, This Writer’s Voice. The first post, about why I write what I write, can be found here.

Whether you use the term critique partner, first reader, beta reader, or even if you have a whole critique group or two or three, one of the most important things a writer needs is someone who will provide honest feedback.

Note that I said honest feedback. We all have people in our lives who will love everything we write, or at least tell us so, just because they love us and they want to see us happy. While that sort of feedback certainly helps in the positive strokes department, it isn’t as helpful for growing as a writer and for making our writing the best it can be.

For that we need someone who, while they care about us, also cares about the craft of writing, and knows that we need to hear when something doesn’t make sense, or when we got to the ending too quickly, or when we meandered all over the place until they thought we were NEVER going to get to any conclusive point.

We need to hear when we’ve overused one of our favorite words, and we need to hear when something just plain falls flat. We need to know when a character is unbelievable, or when what they say sounds out of character. And yes, it’s good to hear when something is working, and know that they’re not just saying that.

We also need a sounding board to try out new ideas, to brainstorm how to write through those problems listed in the paragraphs above, to say why don’t you try that chapter from this angle, or to give you a considered answer when you wonder about changing the whole novel into first person from third, or making the secondary character into the main character.

I am fortunate to have a first reader (our term of choice) who is all that and more. I appreciate her friendship, support and insightful comments very, very much. I know my writing is better because of her feedback. Thank you! You know who you are…

If you’re a writer, I hope you have someone like my first reader in your corner. If you haven’t, I urge you to find someone. If you write for kids, and you don’t know how to find such a person, check out the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ blueboard to look for critique partners or critique groups. (Go to the SCBWI website and scroll down to the bottom of the homepage to find the link.)

Next month, on November 19, I’ll be sharing the post with Kathy Halsey as we discuss accountability and the boon of having an accountability buddy. Hope you’ll come back here for that!

Here’s to books, encouragement, teaching and hope!

6 thoughts on “A Writer’s Need for Feedback – What it means to have a good first reader”

  1. First readers are so important. I’ve been in writing groups, but not right now. I miss it. The encouragement is vital.

  2. So true. I am lucky enough to have a fab critique group of 5 and a few trusted partners who share mss every few months. A crucial part of our movement forward are those writing pals.

  3. I learn from what my critique group says about my work, what they say about each others’ work, and from looking at and commenting on their work. You’re right. It matters.

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