A myth exists that an author toils alone when he is taking words and forming them into sentences that make paragraphs, that turn into pages, which become scenes, and then morph into chapters that become a novel.
The truth: an author who works alone, who doesn’t seek out an objective voice, who doesn’t have to steel against the criticism of others, is a writer who is soon out of touch with the market, with fans, and with the reality of the condition of his work.
I was reminded of this recently when I submitted to my critique groups after a long hiatus from submissions. Yes, I knew the draft I sent was the first, but I did believe I’d caught the essence of the story. The characters were alive to me. Their story vivid.
I sent the chapters off with dreams of receiving accolades for my prose from my trusted writing pals. I imagined reviews such as “perfect, ready to print, and this work couldn’t get any better.”
I’ll pause here to give you time to get a grip and stop laughing.
Even I knew my dreams were not grounded in reality. I’m the author. I should think that my writing is where it needs to be. My characters need to become my best friends so that I know everything about them. My story should, in the very least, be formed inside my head.
The job of critique partners is to shake the author from the land of dreams and cause her to focus on the problems they find. In that regard, my critique pals did not fail.
Yes, I did receive some glowing feedback, but my critique partners would frighten me if they sent back a manuscript absent lines, filled with red and blue along with bubbled comments explaining why I need to delete or add or change portions of the manuscript, even a lengthy summary at the end of the document telling me what does and does not work. For the most part, I learned what I already knew deep down: I’d brought on too many characters at one time (a major flaw I work hard to overcome with my partners’ help). I’d used words that didn’t fit the description. Horror of horrors, I’d used telling rather than showing. My heroine was not grounded and at times not likable (no one wants an unlikable heroine), and overall, the chapters need lots of work.
After the first few minutes of staring opened mouthed at the comments, I smiled. Now, fully grounded, I could dig in and put the mess in order.
Criticism hurts, but a lack of criticism can destroy a career.
If an author toils alone, dismissing the critique process, he fails to taken into account that his own subjectivity might preclude him from publication. Before critique, I thought the heroine in my novel was completely likable, a sweet individual, who’d suffered some loss. For my critique partners, she had moved on too quickly from her loss, was a little unstable at times, and she just didn’t come across as the nice gal I wanted to depict, and once those flaws were pointed out to me, they glared from the page. Egad!
If I didn’t have critique partners to point that out, I shudder to think how my character’s life would have turned out.
An author does not want their first major criticism to come via an editor’s desk, provided after review of a submission. Joining with a critique partner or critique group can eliminate some of that criticism, and in the very least, it can help the author learn to accept criticism in a constructive way.