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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

The Wrong Question Writers Ask


Chances are you’ve asked “Who can I get to read my writing and give me feedback?” There’s no good answer to that question.

Because that’s the wrong question to ask.

In a recent episode of Holmes on Homes, homeowners needed help with a leaky basement. In the process of taking down walls to discover the source of the water damage problem, Mike Holmes and his crew discovered one problem after another. The most frightening were the multiple unsafe electrical “fixes” throughout every room in the house. It was luck the place hadn’t gone up in flames.

I suspect that one of this older house’s multiple owners asked, “Who can we get to rewire the kitchen?”

bad electrician 2 canstockphoto9222141Maybe someone’s nephew was recommended. “Bruce took a course at the tech school, didn’t he?”

Maybe the owners created the dangerous situation themselves. “How hard can it be? I’ll run over to the hardware store and pick up a dozen junction boxes and we’ll be set.”

Maybe an unscrupulous contractor made the changes. “These folks wants the work done quick and cheap. We’ll just bend the code a little.”

“Who can we get?” as in “Who’s available?” is a dangerous question.

The question the homeowners should have asked is “Who is qualified to rewire our home?” Likewise, you should ask “Who is qualified to read and respond to my writing?”

Picking unqualified people to rewire your house because you can “get them” can cost your home, maybe even your life and the lives of those you love.

Picking unqualified people to read your writing because you can “get them” won’t cost your home or life, but it can cost you months, even years to heal from the damage – years when you could have written some wonderful stuff.

I know this for a fact – I’ve worked with courageous and committed writers who invested a lot of time and effort to recover from creative wounds caused by inappropriate feedback.

The pool of available beta readers can be small. Don’t let that tempt you to take whatever and whoever you can get. The pool of qualified and available readers will be even smaller. Don’t let that stop you.

You can read more about feedback in a series of posts that starts with Feedback Should Be a Crystal Ball Not a Wrecking Ball. Steven Pressfield offers another perspective on who’s qualified to give feedback in his post Nobody Knows Nothing.

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