Welcome to So Relatable, a bi-weekly newsletter featuring conversations about the creative process, suggestions for nourishing yourself, and inspiring links. Hit reply to say hi! I love hearing from you.
When I shared my 2022 goals, I mentioned that I finished the fourth draft of my novel and sent it to my first readers at the end of December.
Technically, these two friends are not my very first readers. My writing group has been reading the manuscript chapter-by-chapter since last April and are only now nearing the end of the book. While their feedback has been invaluable, it’s also a very different experience. Because they get one section at a time, they pick up on small things someone reading the whole tome might skim over. If they’re really into the story, they can’t keep turning the pages late into the night to see what happens next. And sometimes they (understandably) forget an important detail from chapter two, because they read it literally eight months ago.
I’ve loved hearing their evolving thoughts, but it was time for someone to see the full book all at once, the way a novel is meant to be read. And so, when I reached the final page a few days before Christmas, I took a deep breath, opened a new email, attached the draft, and hit send.
Asking a friend, no matter how dear and treasured they are, to read an 85K word manuscript is a big deal. It takes a lot of time to read all those words, to give thoughtful feedback, to help someone make something better. Which is why it’s helpful—and, I would argue, necessary—to let your reader know what kind of feedback you’re looking for.
In my day job, I work in content marketing and corporate communications, where expressing an idea clearly and concisely is paramount. Often this means helping others clarify their thoughts, zeroing in on the point of a piece and making sure it accomplishes its goal. “Do you need a quick line edit,” I might ask, “or a deeper dive? Is this a first draft I’m reading, or a near-final version? What are you looking for? What do you need?”
It’s a process I’ve carried into my personal life. I have no patience for double-speak, for sarcasm, for coyness. Tell me exactly what I need to know—how you feel, what you want, where we can improve. Life is short; let’s not spend it hoping someone will guess our deepest desires. Let’s ask for them, loudly and clearly and with as much kindness as necessary to get them.
For my novel, I’m hoping for a sense of the book as a whole, to know if the plot works, if the characters are sympathetic, if the story holds the reader’s interest. Those are big questions that can be hard to answer, so here’s how I broke it down for my friends:
Does the opening chapter work? Do you want to keep reading?
Are there any parts that felt slow or boring or repetitive? That you found yourself skimming to get to the next section?
Were you confused at any point of the story—about timelines, characters, motivation?
Is the plot predictable? Could you predict the twists before they happened? Did anything pleasantly surprise you?
Do you relate to any of the characters? Are they interesting and complicated? Is there anything problematic I'm overlooking? (Help me not get canceled.)
Is the plot believable? Were there moments where you were unable to suspend your disbelief, or became distracted by the events?
Does the ending work? (I tried a few different ones, and I'm still not convinced the pieces come together.)
I’m hoping these questions will help guide them to read and think about the book in a way that helps me. That together, we can make it even better.
PS: Speaking of requests, a sincere thank you to everyone who donated to my virtual tip jar last year. I pledged to donate 20% of whatever I made via this newsletter, and because of you I was able to send $55 to Cape Fear River Watch, a great local organization whose mission is to protect and improve the water quality of the Cape Fear River Basin. Even better, I used my employer’s match program, which doubled our donation. Thank you for reading, and for helping to protect the place that inspires so much of my writing. 💛
Snack of the Week
I’m once again doing Dry January, and as a result non-alcoholic beverages have absolutely taken over my Instagram ads. I finally broke down and tried one, and I have to say: it’s actually pretty good! Last night we had a few friends over for an outdoor fire and I sipped on this NA IPA, and if it wasn’t for the fact that I was ready for bed long before everyone else, I wouldn’t have known it was alcohol-free. Definitely worth trying if you’re quitting, cutting back, or taking a break!
22 Ways to Have the Best Money Year of Your Life, Money. Bookmark this article—it’s full of helpful links and financially-savvy ideas to help you invest in yourself and your future. 💸
The Case Against the Trauma Plot, The New Yorker. “Unlike the marriage plot, the trauma plot does not direct our curiosity toward the future (Will they or won’t they?) but back into the past (What happened to her?).” 💔
What Daily Routine Videos Actually Show Us, New York Times. “Schedules, like to-do lists, are aspirational; they rarely represent how we actually spend our time.” This type of article is my personal catnip—the internet, wellness trends, productivity culture! Gimme, gimme, gimme! 🦋
How to Find Inspiration in Strange Times, Notes from Eva. Eva’s monthly newsletter is always full of gems. I particularly liked this one about different ways to get inspired. 🌈
I discovered Wordle at the same time as the rest of the world (IE, this past Friday) but I’m already obsessed. So far, I’m 3/3. 🧩
Thank you to Natalia M. for answering last week’s cry for coffee!
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Thanks for sharing what feedback questions you share with your readers! I'm saving this post for next time I have a draft ready to send out to beta readers.