Asking people if they like my writing

You’ve invested many a sleepless night and daydreamful day into your newest piece. Now, it’s the defining moment: will anyone even like it? So, it’s time to ask around. You go to Staples and make a few paper copies for the old-fashioned people. You upload .doc’s into Facebook messages for the hip social media users. You pick your audience carefully: Sally who’s studying English Honours, Bob, editor of the campus newspaper, and Helga who has read every possible book in your genre. You give your work to these people and you hold your breath…will they like it? Or have all your sleepless nights and daydreamful days been totally wasted on an inky mound of junk?

typewriter-hi

We writers tell ourselves we write because we love writing, but, c’mon, the ultimate reward is winning over a reader…amirite? 😉 It’s nice to hear a compliment after you’ve slaved over a project so much your hair turns grey. But, just for a second, I want us to backpedal a bit here and ask the question: is asking someone if they like your piece really what you should ask?

In a way, this post is a continuation of this one a couple of days ago. That post attempted to tackle the question “is there such a thing as ‘good’ writing.” Today, I will expand on that by asking “Does it really matter whether someone ‘likes’ my writing? Is asking if they like it even relevant?”

instagram2Recently, I stopped simply asking people “What do you think of my piece?” because I realized their resulting answers were not exactly helpful. “Hey, I really liked it” or “It was interesting, but it could use some work” is nice to know, but what do these ambiguous, general answers actually tell me?

Instead, I’ve been asking readers to tell me what the piece makes them think.

You see, I equate success and “good writing” with getting the message across. In this way, whether someone likes the message or not is irrelevant. I just want readers to get the message, and if it’s a relatable, powerful, and hence likeable, message, all the better.

I started to notice that with this change of question, I received more in-depth and helpful responses. Some were quite surprising. Readers sometimes expressed a response I had totally unintended. Other times were enlightening, when the reader understood some of what I was saying but was unsure or confused about the big picture. Other times, the reader echoed back exactly what was on my mind, and I called those “bingo” moments because my writing had successfully conveyed what I wanted to say.

I believe our first step is ensuring that our readers actually receive what it is we’re offering. Only then can we scrutinize our offering, because what’s the use of a gift if it can’t be received?

What are your thoughts? What do you ask readers to do when you ask them to beta-test a piece for them?

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8 thoughts on “Asking people if they like my writing

  1. That’s funny, I always tell people what they did that was strong or weak but I rarely ask what I did right, other than “Did you get it?” or “Do you like it?” So that point is a very relevant one.
    I think I read so much to be moved that when someone tells me they like their writing i get the double ecstasy of not being alone in my feelings and the general elation of being accepted. But of course there’s so much more to writing than just inspiring and capturing emotion. The art of it, for one. I hadn’t really considered that. Thanks.

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    • Still, if I failed to move them, then I’ve failed everything else too, in my mind. That is probably why I ask “Do you like it?” I want to know if I have endeared them to it because they were moved.

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      • Of course, writing that is powerful enough to move someone is fantastic, but what I mean is, the very first step should be to get the message across first. You might have a splendid message, but it serves no use if it gets lost in translation and transportation between word, brain, and heart. Now, I realize I’m being real vague when I say “message” all the time, because not all pieces have messages, and not all pieces have messages that aren’t blatant. (Eg. the message of a sci-fi show should be pretty blatant). But I guess that’s for another day 🙂

        I think, if the art was powerful enough to really move someone, they will tell you, whether you ask or not.

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  2. I ask that question as well, followed by a few other, more specific questions. Like, “What did you think of the relationship between Sally and Fernando,” or, “Does this page about the pompadour invasion need any work?”

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    • I like how your questions are open-ended, leaving the reader room to explain/describe something rather than say “this was good” or “this was bad.”

      Some readers will be more helpful than others, so I also think it’s important to choose your readers wisely. It would be awkward and unproductive to give a piece of speculative fiction to a journalist to beta-test, in my opinion, as the conversation would mostly consist of “Er, I think it’s…pretty good” and “Er, I don’t know if that works or not.”

      But hey, I’ll leave that to another post 🙂 Thanks for the comment and follow!

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  3. I really like the idea of asking people what a piece makes them think… I’ll have to try that! Usually, when I’m giving feedback to other writers I try to be specific about what I liked in the piece–if it uses a technique in an engaging way, has a surprising idea, etc. When other people do this for me, I find it far more helpful than the general “oh, I really liked it” statements.

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    • Good job on being specific and contributing your own skill 🙂

      I’m just writing from the perspective that your readers are not writers themselves, and hence are unfamiliar about writing as a technical craft. But readers are usually human (I hope!) and all art has some sort of affect on humans. I only start to worry when people have absolutely nothing to say!

      Thanks for the continued support and sharing of thoughts, by the way! I hit 50 followers yesterday and 53 today all because of you loyal, intelligent folks! That way surpassed by goal of 50 followers by the end of April 😀

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