In previous blogs, I've discussed the importance for writers of having a support system in place, either in the form of betas or a critique group or both. I also have friends who read what I write, but honestly, their value is more limited to telling me they like what I write which, while nice, isn't helpful in the how can I improve myself category of the writing process. Most friends don't want to offer criticism for fear of offending, and that's fine too. It also doesn't hurt to belong to online groups too, to find other like-minded people that you can bounce ideas off of, and do a back and forth sort of dialogue regarding your work, their work, and so on.
I was in a situation recently where someone posted a WIP that was completely unedited and when I offered a couple of comments, I was accused of being mean. Probably because I didn't fall all over myself telling the person how wonderful it was. But isn't what you need when you join a critique group criticism? So why cry when you get it?
Face it, we none of us are perfect. That's why we have editors (who are also our punishments, but I'll save that for another blog). Wouldn't it be wonderful if every word that proceeded either from our pen or from our keystrokes was just the way we envision our story, with no changes needing to be made, best-seller material ready for an eager publisher to welcome with open arms and a huge advance?
Life does not work like that, though, and neither does writing. Writing requires a lot of thought, a lot of work, a lot of spit and polish, and hard examination - reading and re-reading, and going over. That's where the others come in, the crit partners/betas/idea bouncers - they help with that process by providing a fresh pair of knowledgeable eyes which will be able to see what your myopic too subjective eyes cannot always see.
No one likes to hear that what they've written needs to be fixed. You have to go into it, though, with the idea that your writing will need changes, whether for grammar or spelling or context, or plot, or getting the details right. How embarrassing if you decide to change your hero's name for whatever reason and don't discover til after publication that you missed it in a few spots, and now you've really confused your readers.
I find that overweening hubris is often - but not exclusively - the purview of the very young writer (and young doesn't necessarily refer to age, but to writing experience). I admit - been there, done that. I can remember a time when if you dared to suggest my work was less than perfect or needed something, I'd have a hissy. I got over that, and I learned to develop a thicker skin, and to appreciate the advice I was given. (FYI that doesn't necessarily extend to reviewers, but again, that's another topic, cause they aren't there to help you write, but to guide their readers).
So I'm mean for speaking the truth? Okay, I can leave with that. It doesn't make what I say any less truthful, and once you get past that youthful arrogance, maybe you'll see it too. Or not, your choice.
Do you have to accept everything people tell you in terms of criticism? Of course not. Not everyone is right, and what they are offering are opinions, some of them more informed than others. Sometimes you have your own reasons for using the words you did, setting up your situation the way you did, etc. But sometimes other people are just right. I'm still learning to edit my own work, as well as the work of others. How? By doing. I take what people say to me and apply it to others. I'm learning to tighten my writing, cut out some of the fat and watch out for repetition (other than when I'm making a point). Sometimes it takes someone else to point out that you have a tendency to abuse a word or phrase. Once you hear it, it's easier for you to see it. For example, in To The Max, it was of course and naturally, and as I did the edits, I saw that yes, I used those far too much. With a friend and fellow author, it's the phrase a bit (which I have banned from her writing lol)
You can make this process as difficult as having teeth pulled, and as painful, or you can look at it as a learning experience whose goal is to improve your writing. Frankly, I want to improve my writing, to be the best that I can be, so I leave my ego at the door. Now, having said that, some things are too much to take, such as suggestions that I change my main character (this in a sequel, no less, so he's an established character) or the suggestion that I change my writing style (seriously? if the publisher didn't like my style, I have to believe he wouldn't have selected my book to publish). So yeah, there's some of that grain of salt thing in there too.
The important thing is to be willing to listen, and to take the heat. Think of it as a trial by fire, one from which you'll emerge safely from on the other end - perhaps a little worse for wear, but whole and enlightened for the experience. If you offer criticism to someone, be nice about it - no need to get rude or snippy (save that for the reviewers). Show consideration for a fellow author, but also be truthful. Telling them what they want to hear isn't going to help them a bit.
Have you ever offered assistance to someone and gotten your head bitten off for it? I'd love to hear about!
Remember, there's a contest going on here - all you have to do is follow this blog and leave a comment with your contact information, and you're entered! The winner will receive a copy of one of the chapters from my ongoing series Captivations, to be selected by the winner! Hurry and enter, contest ends Saturday!