Post an excerpt of your novel on a public web site for critique.
Yes, I did it. Earlier today, I plunked the first 1000 characters of my NaNo novel in one of their forums.
Am I still terrified? Am I still worried it’s going to get shredded? Of course I am. But my logic is this: if I’m having a lousy day anyway – and boy, I am – then how much worse can it get? This is just a piece of writing. It’s not, after all, my whole life. It’s something I actually have control over. It’s something that, if the replies are too scathing, I can simply delete, with no real consequences. I’ve had to start over before; I can do it again.
And I cheated, a little. I asked my mom to read it first. I thought a lot about that, and eventually I told her that if she thought it was boring and/or awful, she should lie to me. I told her to think of it as having to say something about someone’s ugly but much-loved baby. So in terms of whether or not the work is good or bad, I can’t really take her word for it.
On the other hand, I did learn some good things:
- She got the setting. This was kind of a crap-shoot; I do have a prologue for this book, but it’s really awful at the moment, and I’ve realized I need to finish the rest of it before I can go back and decide how much to reveal in an introduction. Good to know the setting comes across (sufficiently for narrative purposes, anyway) in chapter 1.
- She got the character, right down to her age. The purpose of chapter 1, really, is to introduce my two main characters and establish a relationship. The first 1000 words are only about my heroine, and when I asked some questions about her – her age, what she was like – my mom answered them correctly. So at least I’ve done my job to that degree.
- She said – and this may have been one of those spurious ugly-baby compliments – that she wanted to turn the page and keep reading. That sure as hell beats the comments I got from my husband on last year’s work, which led me to abandon it. I figure people can think whatever they want of the first 1000 words, but if they’re curious enough to turn the page, I’m going to keep working.
There’s a good possibility, of course, that I won’t get any comments at all on the forum. Many people don’t. It doesn’t seem to have much to do with whether or not the excerpt posted is good or bad (in my opinion). I’ve gone back and reviewed some that had no replies; but there are lots more. I don’t think it’s commentary on the quality of what’s being ignored, one way or another – probably just how much time people have, and whether or not they’re engaged enough one way or another to take the time to critique. (It does take time, and some attention, if you really want to be helpful.)
I do have a writing buddy – someone whose work I critiqued once on the forum, and once over email. He has stated on another forum that he does not care for melodrama, and isn’t especially interested in character over setting. I suspect he’ll find this dull. He may not read it at all. But knowing his personal preferences…I don’t think I’ll be offended if he’s disinterested. I don’t expect everyone to want to read this book; there is no genre beloved by everyone. This is the story I want to tell, and I want to tell it as best I can.
So we’ll see. I’m not going to hold my breath. I’ll probably have a panic attack later. (Or maybe now. I’m considering it.) But like I said before…keeping it to myself isn’t going to make it suck less.
And new readers may actually help me make it better.