Thursday, April 16, 2009

14 wk novel - week 6: feedback, or a cow is a cow, unless it’s a horse

Goals for week #6: Sometimes life throws you extra projects, a cold, a family crisis or two, or there are no more clean socks and the laundry won’t wash itself. When that happens, you’ve got to concentrate on things other than writing. But don’t forget about your novel. Try to set realistic goals for how much you can write in the next 7 days. If there’s no crisis and you’ve got clean socks, then smile and keep on writing :)

Sharing your work before it’s done …
Do you share your novel before it’s finished? I know some people like to send it through their critique group, while others won’t share anything until it’s done and polished. I usually share, but this time I’m trying really hard to not share until I have at least 3 chapters done and polished so that I have the voice and story set in my mind. Feedback is great when it helps to make your work better, but not so great when it becomes writing by committee. If you have a really strong vision and character voice, it might be ok to share early. If it’s easy for you to get off track, then you might want to write the whole thing before you get a critique. (The exceptions are when you are in a writing class or going to a conference. Then you might want or need to share early.)

Sharing your work, a cow-tionary tale:
Instead of quotes this week, I thought I’d share a story. It’s about art, but easily applies to writing and the idea of sharing too early. A few years ago, I was doing an art project where I created a cow picture every day for a year (366 days – it was leap year). As you can imagine, life does not stop so that you can draw a cow every day. Sometimes you have to bring your drawing or painting supplies with you and draw in public.

My husband and I were visiting my parents, and the only time that day to draw a cow was at the restaurant where we were having breakfast. We ordered and I started drawing. I’d been drawing cows for years and was several months into my cow-a-day project. At that point, I could draw a cow blindfolded and it would still look like a cow.

However, when the waitress started bringing juice and coffee to the table, she looked at my drawing and said, “Wow! That’s a really nice horse.”

She called my cow a horse. In front of my family, who thought it was really funny.

I didn’t think it was funny. I started to doubt if my cows really looked like cows. Maybe they did look like horses. “OhMyGod, I can’t draw cows! Or anything else! Or… I’m a sucky artist.”

It stayed with me for a while. I kept drawing my horse-cows and grumbling about it until I realized that the waitress must not have known what a cow looked like. She probably didn’t know what a horse looked like either. Horses don’t have horns, or udders. And horses have manes. Horses don’t look like cows, and cows don’t look like horses. After that I didn’t worry whether or not I could draw cows.

The moral of the story is: Trust your vision and your creative talent. Some people give great, relevant feedback, while others don’t have a clue.


  1. LOL! I love the cow story!!!

    My mom calls animals by the wrong name all the time. I lovingly point out that she must have missed that day in preschool. :0) Some people just do that.

    I love the picture! and I think your cow looks like a cow and your horse looks like a horse.

  2. Great advice. If only I always knew which opinions to trust...
    Love the picture - I can certainly tell your cows from horses!

  3. Thanks Christy! Maybe I should rethink her comment. Actually, I'm sure she was trying to be nice and was sincere in liking my drawing. It's just that cows are a big deal for me, so I took it personally. Of course the laughing from the peanut gallery didn't help. ;)

    Thanks Rena!

    Thanks Adrienne! It is hard to know which opinions to trust, especially for portfolio critiques, because it's so subjective. Every art director and editor will have a different opinion (or maybe that's just for my portfolio?).

  4. this is a wonderful little story. I can't draw much at all. and writing is something I just started. I found your post on the blueboards and have started reading. I may not make the 14 weeks since I just discovered it. But the premise is awesome. thanks.

  5. Thanks for stopping by Alice! I hope the 14 week novel posts are helpful, whether you do them in 14 weeks or not. Happy writing and I'll see you around the Blue Boards! :)