How to get reliable feedback on your writing (is your writing good enough?)

Today on Reddit I saw a post from a young author who felt unsupported. He was seeking someone to edit his book for free, or give feedback or commentary. I’m sharing my response because I truly sympathize: writing can be hard and isolating. And getting real feedback from a developmental editor is expensive. I charge $5K+ for editing and rarely take on new projects, and it’s frustrating because most authors make the same mistakes and I’m always giving the same sort of feedback and comments. 

know they could learn all this stuff themselves with a little time and effort, and I’ve spent literally years producing useful resources to shorten the learning curve.

While you *could* get beta feedback from just anybody, it wouldn’t be great because they wouldn’t know what to comment on or suggest. Even if they’re good at writing, they may not read in your genre; and even if they read in your genre, they may not be able to point out what isn’t working or why.

Few people know enough about the craft of writing (writing fiction on purpose, instead of via exploratory creativity), but I love trying to figure out “rules” and guidelines and templates to make it easier. Of course a lot of writers protest and avoid any kind of template or format, but they really do help fix up your writing fast and make it more presentable: if people aren’t enjoying reading it, they won’t finish it. And there are reliable ways to keep them reading.

Anyway, I have a TON of free content, but here’s a few things.
a 10+ hour youtube playlist of writing tutorials
a 24-chapter plot outlining template
the 25 common writing mistakes most authors make
nonfiction & memoir outlining templates

*IF* you ever decide you’re ready for some professional critique and feedback on your writing, here’s my editing site. I recommend the “sudden death” service, which is a deep developmental review of your first 5000 words, to make sure your book hooks readers fast.

But how to deal with doubts and insecurities?

In response to another post I saw on Facebook today (which was very nearly the same question… “it’s hard to get reliable feedback on my writing, how do you deal with doubts and fears about whether your writing is even good enough…” here’s a quick answer.

1. Writing is a learnable skill. You probably aren’t good enough yet, but you can be, if you choose to.

2. “Good Writing” isn’t a personal style and it’s rarely about the sentence structure or word choice. So, first of all, don’t worry about it because it totally doesn’t matter. And secondly, books succeed when they are enjoyable to read: that’s something you can learn quickly IF you want to (but most authors don’t!).

3. Most feedback will be a waste of time. Sure, it’s SO much faster to have someone point out the mistakes so you can do better, but it’s expensive. And you can learn it yourself, though it takes more time and it’s harder to self-edit. Still, YOU want to learn these skills, so you’re not stuck always paying someone else to figure it out for you.

4. PUBLISH. You won’t get real, honest feedback from strangers until you publish. Publish, and listen. Don’t take it personally. People might hate it. That sucks. People might also love it. Probably, most people aren’t going to have strong feelings any which way, they just got bored and gave up and don’t know how to tell you.

5. Publish again. The first time – you probably had a crappy cover, no reviews and a boring blurb. So for ALL your effort, you probably didn’t get enough actual readers to even find out whether or not your book is any good.

I wrote something recently about the problem with hopium – but basically, most authors expect amazing results with little effort, for their first book, and these unrealistic expectations lead to insurmountable doubts and fears, because their hopes are so devoid from reality and they know it.

Focus only on getting better. How do you get better? Start with the training wheels and resources; start by trying to write to market and please readers with a “good enough” book. Start with measurable checkpoints and goalposts.

Give your book away for free – on instafreebie or bookfunnel or booksprout or similar sites. Make it permafree. Put it on Vella or Wattpad. Focus on giving it away (to the right audience). The more you publish, the more real reader feedback you get, the more your confidence will grow.

REAL confidence comes from real experience. Courage or bravery is moving forward despite the fear, based on no knowledge or experience. You may need courage and bravery for awhile in the beginning, and it’s scary. But don’t depend on it for too long because it has nothing to do with actual results, reader response or traction. It can even be a mask or defense mechanism, whereby you tell yourself it doesn’t matter if nobody reads it, or nobody likes it, or you don’t sell any copies. Because you’ve learned to distance yourself from reality in order to maintain your biased optimism.

Trust me, I’ve been there… I spent years there. But it’s frustrating, and it’s easy to get stuck without any progress at all, spinning your wheels, no idea how to get unstuck.

Creative fear is a ubiquitous and necessary part of the process. It probably won’t go away. It *always* kind of feels like you’re wasting your time, spending hundreds of hours/months on a book, unsure if it’s ever going to make any money. But you can learn to recognize it and handle it.

Check out “the three orders of creative wretchedness” were I talk about the 2 types of creative fear and how to fix them.

Also, be aware that it is normal to get drained, overwhelmed, and demotivated. You’re draining your brainpower doing something very hard. It’s dumb to feel guilty about not being able to keep up the constant motivation or enthusiasm.

It’s normal to go between “I’m a genius!” and “this sucks I’m terrible!”

You can help, a little, by focusing on productivity habits or creativity supplements to make sure you’re resting and refueling. But it’s also important, just to recognize and accept that this is part of the work. There’s nothing “wrong” with you. There’s no “fixing” it.

About Derek Murphy

Hey there! I'm a philosophy dropout and book cover designer with a PhD in Literature. After spending a decade as a starving artist, I vowed to create the life of freedom my restless spirit demands. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write young adult fantasy novels and do a few editorial critiques to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles. FREE GUIDE: Book Marketing is Dead.