|The Reading Lesson|
Let’s say you finished writing your lifestory, or even several chapters, and you’re feeling pretty good about it. Your stories are interesting, with lead sentences that grab a reader’s attention. You ran the spelling and grammar check on your computer and all looks well. While you may not be ready to publish with a traditional big-name company, you are ready for the next step. What is the next step?
Defining the term
Many professional writers will not agree with what I propose: Get feedback from a trusted friend. You likely wrote your lifestory for family and friends and not to become a best-selling author. You may be planning to take your manuscript to a local quick-print store and have it bound in spiral-notebook form on eight-and-one-half-by-eleven sheets, add a clear plastic cover for protection, and buy a dozen printed copies. Fine to do, but you also should do the best you can so your family and friends will not label you a careless, know-nothing amateur (in their minds, though they might not say that to your face).
The key is trusted friend—not your spouse, your children, your grandmother, or your best buddy from high school, college, work, or church because they won’t tell you the truth. They will pat you on the back and say how impressed they are you wrote a great book.
The trusted friend I recommend is someone with knowledge of writing. This could be an English or writing teacher, a published author, a person who makes a living editing a magazine or newspaper, or a member of a local writing group who is experienced at giving feedback; someone who will do the job as a special favor at no charge. At this point you are not seeking perfection; you are looking for impressions. Ask your friend how he/she feels about your stories. Do the stories make sense? Does the narrative flow evenly? Are the events in chronological order (unless you planned them to be out of order). Do not ask your friend to proofread or edit your manuscript; those are steps that will come later. You are looking only for friendly feedback; simple suggestions on how your manuscript could be improved.
How to do it
Encourage your friend to comment along these lines:
“Seems to me this chapter would fit better earlier in the book.”
“I think some dialogue would add interest to this section.”
“You’ve told this story three times. How about thinking of other ways to include the same information?”
“Are you comfortable revealing details of this relationship?”
After Dorsey Levell and I reviewed our manuscript for Dumb Luck or Divine Guidance we asked four people to look it over, none of whom was a professional writer/editor. Then we hired a professional to proofread and edit.
While you should review your own work, the challenge is you are so close to the writing and to the value of stories that influenced you that you are likely to miss the obvious and nuance of form and clarity.
Check with your librarian for the name and contact of a writers’ group near you. You probably can attend several times without joining and I encourage you to join. Like-spirits can be a big help. Many writers’ groups have critique sessions and some have mentoring programs, both for free.
Fantasy author Elizabeth May has suggestions that apply equally well to lifestory writing. Freelance writer Karen Cioffi has excellent tips for self-editing, after which she says you should have your manuscript professionally edited.
More on editing in my last post in this series next week.
Painting: The Reading Lesson, Knut Ekvall (1843-1912). Creative Commons.
What was your experience when you asked a trusted friend to read your lifestory?