The way this idea manifested today is that a person asked about the value of critique partners. And you know, while I did give her an answer, I didn't give her a complete answer. Mostly because it was way too long for a simple FB post, but also because it's a much longer explanation than, "should I look for a new critique partner?"
Over the years, I've had some amazing critique partners. I've also had some really terrible critique partners, whose cutting criticism of my work had me feeling absolutely worthless. Lately, though, I have not used critique partners at all. When I submitted the first book I had published, my good critique partners were too busy to read it. So I sent it in, with no one but me having read it. That book sold. In fact, every book I've ever sold has never been fully critiqued. If I have questions or doubts about a certain passage, I'll send it to trusted friends to give it a read-through. But it's usually something that doesn't take long, and is usually something very specific I want to know. My editor reads the book, and then I get my edits from her.
I struggled to sell my first book for a number of years, and during those years, I had dozens of critique partners, including well-known writing experts. Interestingly enough, the things that my editor didn't like about those books were all things that the experts told me to do. Now, I don't blame the experts, and, I have no intention of revealing who they are or what they said. I think they do know a lot about writing, and they've helped a lot of people. They just weren't the right fit for me, and I didn't have the courage to respectfully disagree.
The person I blame is myself. Because, as the experts told me their advice, I knew it wasn't right for my book. But rather than owning my story, I let the experts shape my story and turn it into what they thought it should be. I didn't believe in myself as a writer, and the truth is, that showed up in my writing.
My writing is different now. Not because I took a class that taught me a new technique, or because I read a fabulous writing book. But because I learned to believe in myself. To trust the story I had inside me, and to trust in the fact that I know how to write.
So does that mean people don't need critique partners? Absolutely not! I used to judge a lot of writing contests, and I read a lot of bad writing. There was one particular story, year after year, I would somehow end up judging in multiple contests. Every year, it was exactly the same story, and the author never changed anything. One year, I received a nasty email from that author basically saying that I had no idea what I was talking about, and how dare I say that her book wasn't perfect. I fought the urge to answer her back and tell her that after five years of not being a finalist, and not selling the book, she might consider that her writing could use some improvement.
There's also the author, whose work I spent hours critiquing and really trying to help, and finally, after not selling her book, decided to self-publish. To support her, I bought the book, and was horrified to find that she hadn't changed a thing- including the typos! So now, she complains everywhere that her book is not selling as well as she thinks it should be.
Where, then, is the room for being critiqued?
I know at least a hundred authors. Probably more. Of those authors, only one has told me that she doesn't have a critique partner and her editor never gives her edits on her books. However, she's also published more than a hundred novels, so I'm going to say that she knows a little something about writing. Every author has some level of editing done before the book goes to print. With the advent of self-publishing, more authors are choosing not to have the book edited, but I believe that's a mistake. There are things you can't see in your own work that you need someone to help you find- even if it's just typos.
Even though you'd think that not having a book edited means that you believe in yourself as an author, I'm going to take a different stance. If you do not have the courage to let someone else critique your work, and are not willing to listen to suggestions and make changes, I think that comes from a deep insecurity manifesting itself as pride. I've noticed that people who are overly prideful are people who have such low self-esteem that accepting criticism in one area means that they are bad people as a whole. None of us are perfect. We all have flaws, and one flaw doesn't make a person a waste of a human being.
So how do you balance the need to trust yourself and the need to have another set of eyes improve your work?
1. Recognize that you are not perfect. And that's okay! You are not a failure of a human being for not being perfect. No one is perfect, so embrace your imperfections and choose to love yourself anyway. Even if someone tells you that your book is the most awful thing they've ever read, their words have nothing to do with your value as a writer. Even the greatest writers in history are criticized to this very day!
2. Recognize that you are a talented writer. You have a valuable story to tell, and it deserves to be told. There is something special inside you that deserves to come out. Only you can tell your story.
3. Recognize your flaws as a writer. There are people you will never please with your writing. My own daughter won't read my books because she hates romance. But there are people who DO like what you write. Have them look at your writing, and notice the patterns that come up. Part of why I don't use a critique partner, except for problem areas, other than the fact that I have an editor, is that over the years, I've seen enough patterns in critiques I've received. If you want to know my flaws as a writer, I can give you a list. So I know, when I'm reading through my work, what to look for.
4. Recognize your strengths as a writer. Sometimes we're so focused on our flaws, that we forget the incredible strengths we have as writers. There are things you do really well. Find out what they are, and celebrate them!
5. Recognize that being an author is a journey. We're all at different places on that journey, and because the journey is so full of different paths, you might be further on one path than someone who is further on a different path. And that's okay. We can learn from each other, support each other, and help each other along the path. A lot of people want to arrive at a certain place on the journey, but the truth is, you never really do arrive. There's always something new to learn and do, and when you embrace that truth, being a writer becomes so much more fulfilling.
Where do you need to go deeper in your belief in yourself as a writer?
I am hosting a retreat in November, and this is one of the topics we'll be addressing. I've talked to so many writers, and it makes me sad to see how many of us struggle with believing in ourselves and our work. The things we write are so valuable, and I really want to see us owning that value!
You can find more details on the retreat here: http://danicafavorite.com/retreat
And, for a little fun-spiration today, as I wrote this post, I had this great song going through my head. If you replace the life stuff with writing stuff, it's really the same story. The writing life is a dance you learn as you go! So take a chance on your writing, and let it out! You're worth it!