Friday, November 18, 2011

Teen Inklings Vol. 22: Letting Others See Your Work

(Originally posted on NextGen Writers)

Letting others see my writing has always been difficult for me. In 2009, I procrastinated for twenty days before joining my first critique group. I wanted my manuscript to be perfect! And, sure enough, after finally joining the group and sending my first chapters out, they came back doused in enough red ink to float the RMS Queen Mary.

Since then, I’ve queried agents and editors, gone to conferences, entered contests, and signed my first contract. All of these things required me to put myself out there, vulnerable, for strangers to judge, and that’s a very hard thing to do. In the past three years I’ve received my fair share of negative feedback—but I’ve never regretted putting myself out there.

Why? Because criticism has made me a much better writer. After the initial sting of a critique, I can usually dig through a reader’s comments and find several nuggets of wisdom. Most critiquers genuinely want to help you make your writing better! After all, they are taking time out of their life to invest in you.

The difficulty of a critique is figuring out what feedback you should take to heart and what you should ignore. A good critiquer will offer suggestions that will change how you say something, not what you’re saying. However, if a reader suggests a change that doesn’t sit well with you, ask yourself some questions. How would that advice make your book better? Why are you so hesitant to make the change? Is it an issue of pride for yourself? At the end of the day, it’s your book. You have to do what you think is right. But if you’re ignoring a suggestion that would truly make your book better, you could be keeping yourself from getting published.

So take feedback seriously, but also take it with a grain of salt. Opinions are subjective and they vary, but if someone who doesn’t know the craft of writing critiques your book and you listen to everything they say, their advice could end up sabotaging your story.

If you’re conflicted about a suggestion, get a second opinion. Find a mentor you trust who knows what they’re talking about and can give you honest feedback. Sometimes I lack the distance it takes to look at my writing from a bigger perspective. A mentor can peer over my shoulder and help me see things differently.

For example, I was a semi-finalist and then a finalist in ACFW’s Genesis Competition this year. I received a wide array of feedback. To prove this, here are the scores I received from the nine judges (in order from lowest to highest) throughout the contest: 64, 74, 78, 79, 85, 87, 91, 95, 99.

If this were school, based on these numbers my grade could be anywhere between an F and an A! I didn’t know what to do with all the comments I’d gotten. So rather than pull all my hair out, I sent my judged pages off to a few people I trusted and let them help me sort through things.

The truth is, I learned something valuable from every one of those judges, even the 64. The least helpful number was actually the 99. It made me feel great to get that score, but I didn’t learn very much from that judge’s comments!

The bottom line is this: Be brave. Put yourself out there to be judged, and then learn how to interpret the advice you’re given. Be willing to make changes, but take time to weigh the pros and cons of each suggestion you’re given. And have someone who can pat you on the back and buy you a wig once you’ve pulled all your hair out.

So, how about you? Are you in a critique group? Was your first critique painful? And if you haven’t joined a critique group yet, why not?