Getting feedback on your writing is a critical part of the professional development of any writer. If you haven’t shown your work to anybody yet, and you’re shy to – that’s not a problem. It just means you’re in an early stage of your artistic development. You still have peer review to look forward to – and believe me, as long as you genuinely want to master your art, peer review is one of the most exciting and enlightening experiences you can have.However, unless they are also writers, getting your friends and family to read and give their opinions on your work is not peer review.
Below I’ll explain why I don’t recommend getting your friends and family to read your work and give you feedback on it.
Unless you’re doing really something wrong, your friends and family probably like you. This means that they will be biased in favour of your work. In some cases they may just not want to hurt your feelings, so even if they don’t think it’s very good, they will still tell you they loved it.However, even if they do intend to give you genuine feedback, they will be influenced by everything they know about you, including your personality, views and background. This may mean they read it positively because they are impressed that a real human that they know can string a decent metaphor together. On the other hand, they may be overly critical, second guessing and analysing it in ways that a stranger might not.
Inaccurately positive or negative reviews can both be damaging as they can both lead to delusions. One that you’re better than you are, the other that you’re no good when you may well be.
Not all opinions are equal
The problem is that unless someone is a writer themselves, or at least have a strong interest in literature, they are unlikely to be able to tell what makes a good piece of writing. They are simply going to be giving their own personal response to a piece.This does have its place, but as I outlined above, if the emotional response is biased, it may be unhelpful or even harmful. And even if they are utterly genuine, getting just one or two emotional responses still doesn’t really tell you much. What you really need from feedback is educated reasons why things don’t work and suggestions as to what might work better.
You need a range of opinions
Even when it comes to highly educated, experienced peer review feedback, getting only one or two can be risky. As you’ll discover if you go to a critique group, people’s views on pretty much every aspect of writing will vary wildly. A sentence or even word that riles one person up might be the other’s favourite. The pace might send one person to sleep, while another finds it just perfect. By getting feedback from a range of people you don’t end up making unnecessary changes just based on a single person’s niggles. And on the other hand, when you find ten people are unanimous about something – you know you have to pay attention.