If you want to become better as a writer, there’s only so much you can do working alone. Or, at least, your progress working solo on improving the caliber of your material will be much slower than it would be if you weren’t your only critic. A much better idea than going it alone, whether you’re working full-time as a freelance writer or just have to produce copy on a regular basis for your own marketing and communications materials, is to enlist the help of others. Many hands make light work, after all.
But how to go about enlisting that kind of help, especially without spending a sizable amount on professional editing services? I’ll let you in on a little secret: You don’t need a pro to help you improve, and you don’t need to be a pro to help others.
I think the least-used Facebook feature is its Notes. The neglect is probably due to the fact that most of what people want to convey to an audience of Facebook associates can be communicated via wall posts, comments and status updates. But the Facebook note is a valuable resource that has a variety of different applications, including as a sounding board for your writing.
A lot of my writer friends use this method for soliciting opinions and responses to their work. They’ll post a short piece, or a section of a longer work, as a note, and then tag people who they know will either enjoy reading it, or who’ll provide honest criticism in the form of comments or privately via a Facebook message. And even if your work doesn’t elicit any kind of feedback, you haven’t lost anything and you’re basically in the same place as if you’d never looked for outside help to begin with.
Facebook is a limited audience, in some respects, but for some people posting notes just isn’t a viable options, since controlling access isn’t all that simple. Google Wave (s goog), on the other hand, can provide a way to share work around a much more limited audience, and in an environment that’s ripe for collaboration.
Now I’m not a great fan of Wave, but it isn’t all bad. It has some great potential for doing collaborative work, and now that invites are plentiful and easy to be had (in fact, let me know in the comments if you need one, I have 20 as of this writing), you should have no problem getting other friends who need help with their writing on board.
Start a group of like-minded people who could use a second set of eyes on the work they produce, and devote a Wave or two to sharing each other’s work. Some might prefer an informal arrangement, but I’ve found it works best when people take turns sharing work they want looked at, instead of just posting stuff as they create it, since that can lead to an imbalance in work load if left unchecked.
Sometimes the best collaborative arrangement is a well-honed and well-matched partnership. The best way to go about finding a useful editorial partnership is contacting someone whose work you enjoy (and ideally, who you have a preexisting relationship with) and hammering out an arrangement by which you both mutually benefit.
This system often works best if you keep reading relatively light to begin with, make generous allowances for each other’s busy schedules, but still follow up if you haven’t heard anything in a while. It’s also probably not a bad idea to establish a regular interval for email exchanges, say a week at the outside.
The Golden Rule of Peer Review
I’ll leave you with the most important rule of all in peer review: Invest yourself personally in the work that you do, but distance yourself entirely from the product you end up with. That is to say, write like your life depends on it, but don’t take any criticism personally. Criticism is food for the writer, and remember, you can always disagree with anything anyone says against your work, although you should never do so outright.
How do you get feedback on your writing?