Critiquing First Drafts

Yesterday, I was processing and applying suggestions from my critique group to my new manuscript, and it occured to me that little is said about feedback on first drafts.

I know some editors and agents will offer to read first drafts, and unless you’re sure that’ll be in your manuscript’s best interests, I don’t generally recommend it. Even though the agent works for you, there is still the stumbling block that the agent won’t represent the piece unless they approve it. And even if they do sign off, their relative enthusiasm could have an impact on the sale, negotiation, and follow-up effort. Ditto, within a different context, the editor. First impressions matter. Also, there is an implied authority to both that isn’t triggered with other writers, and early on, it’s well worth it to explore your own path without that kind of direction.

Some writers don’t ask for readers until after their first draft, and there’s nothing wrong with that, even if you do show up empty-handed to critique group for some months. A new idea can be fragile, and one stray comment may jeopardize the hard-earned faith you need to keep going.

But if you do bring your earlier work and read it for others, here are some guidelines to keep in mind: (1) the piece is in progress; (2) it’s the work of the writer, not the reader; (3) the idea should be to help bring out the original vision with the understanding that it’s evolving; (4) err on the side of questions rather than comments; (5) show enthusiasm.

Arguably, this applies to a critical reading at any stage, but it is perhaps of heightened importance here.

Cynsational News & Links

Author Answers Interview with Edith Tarbescu by Debbi Michiko Florence. Edith is “the author of four children’s books as well as a produced playwright.” Focus on Annushka’s Voyage (Clarion, 1998).

Frequently Asked Questions from the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection. See also bibliographies (includes: African American, Civil Rights Movement, Holocaust, Women and Gender Studies) and the Cinderella database.

Insatiable Curiosity Fuels Popular Kids’ Series, Andrew Lost: An Interview With Judith and Dan Greenburg by Susan VanHecke from Latest release: In the Ice Age, Andrew Lost #12 (Random House, 2005).

Secrets of Success: children’s author Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff from Ellen Jackson Liz’s books include Help! My Life Is Going to the Dogs and the ABC’s of Writing for Children.