Saturday, June 10, 2006

Mom, Do You Have a Minute to Look at This?

Somehow I'ved ended up belonging to an ridiculous number of writers' loops. On most of them, I lurk although there are one or two where I am more active.

Today I saw a post on a loop from a writer who was getting ready to query her first manuscript. She pointed out that everyone who had read it (her parents, siblings and friends) raved about it. I winced because I knew what was coming.

Sure enough, several writers responded, "Don't ever trust your loved ones to do a 'real' critique."

Funny, isn't it? The people you trust the most are the ones least able to provide an unbiased critique of your work.

I've come to think of this as a learning curve. Most writers start out being complimented for their creativity by their teachers in school. They then begin to write outside of school. For some, that's as far as it goes. They never find the courage to show what they've written to anyone else.

The more determined writers begin by sharing their work with the people in their lives--spouses, parents, friends. It's the rare loved one who can offer a helpful critique. Most want to encourage us and, therefore, say wonderful, non-judgmental things.

In order to make the leap to become a professional author, writers need to suck it up and submit their work to people who don't have a stake in the outcome. This is hard to do. I can still remember gathering copies of my chapter and carrying them to my first critique group--a roomful of complete strangers. It was terrifying.

The good news is that it gets easier with time. Gradually, you become more able to withstand criticism--your hide toughens--and you start looking for more detailed analyses of your work. That's when most of us find individual critique partners (CPs).

I've said it before and I'll say it again--nothing is more helpful than having a group of CPs whose judgment you trust and whose abilities you depend upon. I firmly believe that CPs make the difference in who succeeds as a writer and who does not. If nothing else, CPs get you ready to be professionally critiqued by an agent or an editor.

If you haven't done it yet, gather up your courage and find a critique group: at your library, at a bookstore, wherever. You'll be glad you did.

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