In January, I did something I'd never done before. I asked a few people to review/edit a section of my story. It was ten whole chapters, the largest consistent chunk of my novel I'd managed to finish, and I wanted to know if it worked as well as I hoped it did.
I like to claim that I don't care what people think of me, and this is
true most of the time. You don't like my clothes? All righty then. You
think I'm a bit of a spaz? Justified. But when it comes to the quality
of my work, I'm a little less stoic.
When the first person got back to me, I went through several flavors of emotional fluctuation. I was stressed, I was worried, I was irritated, I was hopeful -- and I hadn't even looked at her comments yet. It took me a couple of days to actually work up the courage to go over them. I told myself I didn't have time, that I wanted to be able to sit down and do it all at once. Really, I was procrastinating because I was afraid.
When my curiosity finally overwhelmed my cowardice, I found time to open the document. My stomach twisted into an anxious knot and my body tried to convince me that I should get rid of some nervous energy instead of sitting down and looking at things. I compromised by crouching on my chair. (Really.) I still had enough nervousness that I flew through the first few pages of comments, hardly registering one before I moved on to another. Everything's fine, I kept telling myself. The comments are happy. There is no judgment raining down on me.
After a few minutes of this, I started to sit more normally and read more carefully. I was able to pay attention to the comments and think about how suggested changes would affect my story. I realized that there the commenter made a good point, or that I needed to plant a detail a little earlier here. I was still uncomfortable, but anxiety had given away to excitement. She doesn't think it sucks.
No. She was quite encouraging and helpful. I realized that having other people look at my chapters had accomplished what I hoped it would: giving me new perspective and calling attention to areas that needed work.
When my second commenter got back to me, it was a little easier. And in the months since then, I've had many more opportunities for peer editing. My writing class last semester was pretty much dedicated to it. I was even able to let my mother read my completed third draft with little mortification, and she didn't hate it either (whew). The nervousness is still there, but I can get over it.
About a week ago, I asked for more feedback on a smaller section to help fine-tune viewpoint. Several people responded, and so far I've heard back from two. They helped me realize that I haven't fixed my problem yet. This brings me closer to figuring out how to actually fix it.
It's important to give useful feedback. I love to edit other people's work, but I wonder if some people feel just as nervous as me when they get my comments. Because of the good feedback I've received, I try to keep my edits kind and helpful, but I can think of times where maybe I went overboard, or I had too much to say (which causes sneaky guilt and suspicions of hypocrisy). I can only hope I've kept others' editing experiences as positive as mine have been.
Peer reviewing is tough. The things you say can wreak havoc with others' confidence and creativity. The only rule I've come up with for coping? Relax. You're not on trial.