Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
Who do you ask to read it first?
Mom will either praise it unconditionally or ask why you didn’t take the job in Dallas that guaranteed $45,000 the second year with raises each year thereafter. She either loves everything you’ve ever written or encourages you in every phone call to get a real job.
Your brother promised to read and give you constructive feedback, but his job and girlfriend and ex-wife get in the way of his free time. Besides, you remember that he never got grades higher than a C in English, not even when he studied Shakespeare and acted out all the fight scenes for extra credit.
Your best friend? She may tell you how wonderful the story is, but can you be sure she’s not just being polite? After all, the Wall Street Journal is her first choice in reading matter. She doesn’t care a bit for science fiction, and you’re pretty sure she wouldn’t know what steampunk was if she herself was plunked down into 1870′s London, computer and iPhone by her side.
So…Who do you ask to read your work? Who do you trust to give you helpful pointers and honest critique? And when you’re bruised from that honest feedback—genuinely surprised that your reader found so many errors in what you thought was a perfect manuscript—who do you turn to for encouragement?
If you’re lucky, as many writers have been (me included), you have a critique partner or a critique group or maybe a loose confederation of writing cohorts who act as reality checkers and sounding board for your story and your emotions.
I hang out with the Writin’ Wombats, a group of writers who met at a Web hangout called Gather. The site began as a place for writers to share their work, fiction and non-fiction. It’s now more a social site. But there are still many writers contributing great content there.
The Wombats are quick to critique for one another, giving time from their own full schedules to help their friends, some of whom still haven’t met another Wombat in person. Wombats also offer encouragement and support when the rejections pile up or when a reviewer (or two or three) slams something a fellow Wombat has written.
And if one of the group enters a contest? The support is absolute.
Writing is most often a solitary venture. Not for all writers and not in all ways, but for the most part, it’s you and the keyboard—your fingers, your brain, and the gadget that helps make sense of your thoughts.
But writers need support. They need honest critique, not friends who are hesitant about saying they don’t like what they’ve read. Or maybe they’d like to be honest, but don’t know how to translate what doesn’t work for them as a reader into critique that can help the writer.
Writers need both friends and critics. And they’re twice blessed to find a critic and friend in the same person—a writer buddy unafraid to say something stinks when it does and one who knows enough about the frustrations of the writing life to be able to comfort when comfort, more than critique, is called for.
I can heartily recommend that you find a critique partner or group that will be your support. Know going in that you’ll need to be the same in return, someone bold enough to tell your partner or friends when something isn’t working. No writer wants to send his or her manuscript to an agent or acquiring editor only to discover later it was appallingly bad.
So be a true friend—tell your writer friends when their stories need work. If you can provide specifics, that’s even better. And when the writing world seems to be against your friend, be there with the support she needs (chocolate, bourbon, a willing ear). Be a credible critic and a dear friend. And don’t be shy about finding the same for yourself.
Writers need support. Here’s hoping you find some Writin’ Wombats of your own.