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.

Happy
editing.

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