A Critical Eye

Objectivity. It’s not really possible when it comes to your own work. You’re just too in it. Of course, you can develop editorial skills and nurture the ability to identify what works and what doesn’t. But that only takes you so far. For those working with a view to self-publishing then, who does one turn to for that truly objective voice? Is it a must to pay out for a professional editorial? There are certainly some fantastic resources available out there: Harry Bingham’s The Writers’ Workshop for one, offers such services. However, whilst they offer lots of great free advice and hints and tips – I would hugely recommend everyone to check them out (and their soon-to-be-launched Jericho Writers initiative) – editorial services come with an understandable charge. We all know you have to speculate to accumulate but where does this leave the writer working on a shoe-string budget?

Well, there are alternatives available. Peer feedback forums are an option that I’ve used. Whilst this isn’t akin to a professional editorial, it does provide valuable insight into how readers may receive your work. The fact that it’s blind feedback also ensures a greater degree of that all-important impartiality. Again, The Writers’ Workshop Word Cloud forum is one place to start. I have used YouWriteOn too which operates on a reciprocal basis: you review one user’s work; you gain a review credit to put against one of your writing uploads. The other benefit to these forums is the development of your own critical eye and editorial abilities. We all know reading is crucial to the writing process, but by regularly reviewing other writers’ work in this context, we are exposed to a breadth of content that we may not otherwise get when sticking to our usual reading habits. I found that by engaging with other’s work with an editorial eye – scrutinizing the narrative voice; language use; development of character; dialogue; setting etc – I have up-skilled myself. This, in turn, has led to greater honesty when it comes to self-editing.

There is a caveat to these sorts of forums though: whilst they are a great (and free) resource, the blind-review construct is a slightly double-edged sword. If you don’t know who is critiquing your work, how much value should you place in their feedback? I have found content (both in the writing I have reviewed and within responses to my own work) to vary hugely, from the insightful to the downright strange. Further, objectivity within feedback can be skewed when the individual confesses to hating the genre of the piece: one individual cited that they would never choose to read steampunk in the first place and so found it difficult to offer much in the way of useful comment. Perhaps that is feedback in and of itself, though I do think one has to consider the context in which the response is framed. Oh dear, I appear to be critiquing the critique…

What’s the answer then? One thing I do, is to revisit the reviewer’s own page to get a feel for their work: how I feel about their prose informs how I relate to their offerings on mine. I have now identified one particular fledgling author whose work I hugely respect. We reciprocate in offering a critical eye on each other’s work and have done so for some time now. Our writing styles/voices are very different though we both write within speculative fiction so I consider his views as the perfect foil. It’s only one other voice, but I value his honesty and objectivity and that can only be a good thing…  

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