I fell off my high pedestal of making a post a week until I finished this series. Gah. Just imagine I’m flogging myself as I type this.
Anyhow, so a few weeks ago I started this endeavor with a sort of response to an article (or if you’re a pirate, an arrrrrrticle) about why you shouldn’t do NaNoWriMo. If you’re too lazy to go read the original post or the article, the short version is that people slam-out a novel in November and turn around the next day and send it off for publishing or throw it up on Amazon as an e-book. The article criticizes folks for creating their first draft during NaNoWriMo and then treating that as a publishable story.
Sure, maybe you’re so awesome that you create first drafts on your first try, but most people aren’t. People often like to think that they’re the exception to the rule, and maybe they are (if you were that awesome though, you’re probably a best-selling author and wouldn’t be reading my blog), but I’m not actually aware of any author who’s ever done that, especially after writing a novel in a month. The truth is that everyone does at least a little editing, and I’d say editing is most useful with the help of a good critique from your peers.
It’s tough to get perspective on something you wrote – you probably like what you wrote, so you might accidentally overlook some weak points like plot holes, missing information, out of character moments, etc. It’s similar to the more glaring errors our writer’s eye tends to glide right over – typos, misspellings, grammar problems, etc. – it’s easy for a writer to miss the big stuff for the same reasons (the “well it makes sense to ME” reason). Crit partners can offer the perspective you’re missing, and great crit partners can give you tips and ideas you were too close to the story to see. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in a group with a writer who walked out with a whole new batch of ideas.
The real power of critique comes when several folks point out things you’re consistently doing wrong, or poorly. Making a habit to correct those things is how one gets better. I have a couple folks in my crit group who do a lot of telling when they should be showing, and while they still do some of it, everyone’s noticed an improvement in that and other aspects of their writing ability since they started showing up. Maybe they could’ve gotten better on their own, but how long would that have taken, and would they even have noticed what not to do?
Critique doesn’t necessarily need to come from other people who are involved in your genre or even practice your chosen craft. I’ve heard it said that beta readers shouldn’t be people you interact with regularly so that they don’t “know” you or your style. If you’re creating something for the general populace, find people who represent that and listen to what they have to say about your work.
It’s plain foolish to think everyone will automagically love and understand everything you create. No artist has ever done that, but good critique can help you get closer, usually a LOT closer.
In short, you’re not awesome, but you can become awesome by 1) doing a lot of whatever your craft is, 2) exposing yourself to a lot of quality work in and around your craft, and 3) listening to what’s wrong with your work and fixing it.