It’s a terrifying moment when you’ve spent time pouring your heart out on the pages and wonder who you should share it with. Will they understand you? Will they laugh at you? Will they give you helpful or hurtful feedback? Are you as good as you think or worse than you thought? Writing is a vulnerable business that demands courage at every turn. It takes courage to start and more courage to finish. So when, exactly, do you share your manuscript with someone else? Here are 4 specific ways to know when you’re ready for criticism.
1. Don’t Rush It
There is no need to rush sharing your work. Honestly. There isn’t. Unless, maybe, if you’re penning a treaty, but I don’t think that’s you. In fact, I think you’re penning something personal. Some thoughts you’ve had lately or have had for a while. A story to call your own. A work that means a lot to you.
You do not need to rush sharing what you’ve written. This is one of the biggest amateur mistakes in writing. Once you’ve written something down, give it a day or two to rest. Let your mind settle. Let it wander. Think about what you’ve just created.
More times than not, these rest days will invigorate your creativity. If you followed my good writing strategies for authors, you’ll have written something you’re passionate about. At this point, you need to put your editing hat on. It’s time to revise what you’ve written. Give me the benefit of the doubt and acknowledge you’re not the only human in history that wrote a perfect first draft. There are spelling errors or grammatical mistakes. Some sentences don’t flow and there are extra, unnecessary words. Perhaps you wrote your story in a point-of-view (POV) that’s just not the best perspective for the story. Have you tried re-writing a section of the manuscript in a different POV? Check your opening lines. Do they grab you and shake you?
When we become great editors of our own work, we greatly reduce the effort necessary by others and expedite the process for acceptance. Don’t rush your writing and share your worst work (and yes it is your worst work if it is a first draft) with someone before you’re ready. Revise, revise, revise. It’s said that great writing is re-writing. Take that to heart. Answer honestly – How many hours have you spent re-writing your manuscript? Less than 10? Less than 100? You will get out of it what you put into it. Take the time to put your best foot forward.
2. Decide WHO Gets to See Your Work
Please, please, please do not just throw your work out there and wait for accolades to come rolling in. The first person or few people (called beta readers or critique group) that should see your work should be trusted confidants. They should be grammatically inclined and relatively familiar with the genre you have written. They should be readers and appreciate of creativity.
It’s often advised NOT to ask loved ones for critiques. There is a lot of truth in this. First, you want objective criticism with no strings attached. Second, if there are strings attached, the relationship can become strained with negative criticism or unhelpful thoughts. Even if their ideas are helpful, they may not understand where you are coming from. Tread carefully with these first few readers.
If you don’t know where to find the right critique partners, read Jane Friedman’s advice on How to Find the Right Critique Group or Partner for You.
3. Tell First Readers What Critiques You’re Looking For
It’s scary when someone gives you their work and asks for your opinion. What opinion do they want, right!? Do they want to know if the POV works? Maybe they just care about the opening few lines being captivating. What if the characters are boring and dull – should they be completely removed or is it a plot problem? What if the writer has no business writing on the subject they’ve written? Now that’s a doozy to tell them!
As an aspiring author or experienced published author, critiques are best given when there are expectations put in place. Many professional editors will make assumptions on the writer’s behalf, but don’t make them do this. Below is a brief list of things to consider, answer, and then share with your critique partners.
- What do you love about your story?
- What do you think your story is weak at and you’re not sure how to fix?
- Why did you write the story?
- What is your expectation of the story (traditional publishing, self-publishing, accuracy in detail vs. excitement in plot, bestseller vs. family keepsake, etc.)?
- What do you hope to receive from them (specific examples, proofreading, line editing, overall structural development, character analysis, etc.)?
- Are you considering other ideas to incorporate?
All of these you should have answers to BEFORE sharing your work for critiques/feedback/comment.
4. Be Prepared for Feedback
Feedback can be TOUGH! One’s ability to accept criticism is a true mark of maturity and a sign of a professional writer. This life is full of criticism. Some good. Some bad. Hopefully, what you receive is mostly helpful.
Before you share you work, ask yourself if you’re mentally ready for feedback. The good…and the not-so-good. Are you committed to hearing people’s opinion? Are you OK with learning they don’t like parts of your story? Are you OK with the story not being taken seriously? What if they dismiss you in your entirety and don’t even care to read it or offer feedback?
Before you share any draft, check your mental state. If you have worked hard re-writing your first draft on your own, have selected specific people to give critique, know what critiques you’re looking for, and are mentally ready to listen to and address any critiques that come your way, you’re ready to share your manuscript.
Most people accept the fact they need critique partners to help them improve their writing. It’s hard to see the forest through the trees, as it were. In Why Critique Partners & Beta Readers Are Essential to Your Writing, Meg Latorre removes any doubt writers might have in being reluctant to find critique partners.
Remember, rushing it is a sign of immaturity. When your manuscript graces the desk of an agent or publisher, you want it to be the absolute best version it can possibly be. Agents and editors are busy, busy people. Don’t give them ANY reason to reject your manuscript. Instead, give them EVERY reason to focus on the story and see you as a professional writer with incredible work ethic and adept understanding of the industry.
Sharing your work can be incredibly difficult. What scares you the most? How do you overcome the fear of having your work, and yourself, judged by others? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, send me a note, and be sure to follow this blog via email using the subscription button provided!