Sometime in fall of 2005, as I realized the end of my first draft was approaching, I faced a dilemma: how was I to obtain feedback for the novel?
I hadn't even shown it to my husband. It's not that he hadn't offered, but I was afraid of bias, worried about preserving our relationship ;-), and also, he doesn't tend to read the type of novel I am writing. The same reasoning applies to most of my friends and family. On the other hand, I was pretty certain that the story wasn't ready to be reviewed by a professional - I was afraid of getting laughed right out the door.
I was trawling local websites and came across the University of British Columbia's Booming Ground program. I previously considered various continuing education courses - and took one at a local community center in winter 2004 that was very valuable. I then toyed with the idea of either an MFA or SFU's Writer's Studio Certificate in Creative Writing, and came to the conclusion that both were too expensive and too long considering the rest of my educational history and present needs.
Booming Ground has a 16 week online mentorship. You submit your work to the mentoring faculty member, and simultaneously post it to a discussion forum accessible by the other students being mentored by your teacher. You receive feedback on 4 submissions over the course of the mentorship. This sounded ideal to me - no bias, a friendly environment, and no face to face confrontations.
The application process was fraught with tension for me. By sending off my 2000 word submission, I'd be exposing my novel to other eyes for the very first time. Hitting 'Send' on that form was one of of the hardest things I've done. What if they said no? What then? I suppose both a rejection or acceptance would tell me something about the story.
When the e-mail came back from the registrar, I eyed it with quite a bit of nervous anticipation before opening it. I think I held my breath. I got in!
There are 5 or 6 students in my mentorship but only 3 of us are participating in the forums. The experience has been good, however. When at least two people comment on the same issue, I know it needs fixing. To my relief, the areas that need work are all things I suspected needed work, and all come with practice. The things I was most worried about - the setup, story pacing, the believability of the characters and world - all seem to be workable. Of course, the possibility exists that I may never get good enough at the areas to improve on no matter how hard I work at it, but it's a start.
The timing has been perfect as I'm getting feedback right when I'm going through my first revisions. Due to my research requirements, I haven't always been able to immediately process or incorporate all the suggestions as they come in, but now I have a checklist of items to look into and fix (or not, as may be). My fellow mentees have had lots of interesting ideas and savvy feedback.
The one drawback is that none of the participants I've corresponded with are local, not even the teacher. So while the absence of face time is on the one hand nice, because it removes some of the emotional stress that can come with delivering feedback, it is nice to be able to talk to people in person now and then. There's a different dynamic. That said, I learned about the Writer's Union seminar from the Booming Ground alumni forum, and managed to network with some former alumni of the program who have put me in touch with local writing groups.
So far, Booming Ground has been well worth the expense.