Many of us amateurs have grown up with stories about the author who first published at sixteen. Or the one who never bothered with a second draft; or even the writer who wrote one line a day until their book was done, and sold their book!
Insert the one you heard here. There are quite a few such tales.
We style ourselves as artists, hunched over our laptop/ typewriter/ paper, pursuing the words we just “have to get out.” (Insert your metaphor of struggle here.) We visualize this process as an individual thing, a solitary quest, a burden and blessing which no one else can quite understand.
And all of that is absolutely true. It’s also a steaming pile, left on a sidewalk in winter, stinking up our worlds.
After attending two, yes TWO conventions (thus, I have become an EXPERT!!!), and attending as well as participating in discussions around writing and publishing, my paradigm has shifted. I would posit that many professional writers do not make their quest a private mission. I would suggest that quite often they utilize the input of other people.
Depending on the writer, this could be friends that read and give feedback. It could be editors who fill their documents with scratch marks and send the author sulking to their redrafts. Or it could be groups, called critique groups: small (ish) gatherings of hopefully like-minded individuals whose purpose is to help each other along and kick each other in the rear.
And this, friends, is where we really get into “Pro’s vs. Amateurs.”
Minds laden with the stories and images of artistes, and what it means to be an artiste, amateurs walk into a critique group seeking validation and praise. Our hearts patter, our hands tremble. We pick our best, we put it before the group, dread thrumming through our limbs. Thinking: they must love it! Oh they must! Please, let them see…!
The Pro knows their story has problems. Of course, in all likelihood, the Pro also carries some version of the above. But they have learned that writing in isolation, in most cases, will result in a product that… well, let’s just say, “isn’t as strong as it *could* be.” A Pro will bring a story to a group (or reader, or editor) with a different need and assumption: I know my story isn’t “finished,” help me figure out what I’m missing.
Not to say one can never be published if one doesn’t seek another’s opinion. Nor would I say that everyone writes the exact same way or is equal in their writing ability. But I would say that generally, most people stand to make their work stronger by utilizing the input of readers and critique groups that are a) honest and b) have good intentions. The writer will gain more from the input if their own motives are aligned with improving, rather than showing off or seeking validation.
This is where “Painful Pleasure” comes in. Because, you see, you will know a good critique group (or reader) because they will have something to say about your piece. Whether it’s a part they didn’t get, or something that didn’t work, or an overall feeling of not feeling anything. In all likelihood, regardless of how many times you have gone over your story, there are things you are not seeing. Good feedback will show you what those things are. YES! It hurts! It Hurts SOOOO Good! Because in this process, your story will come out shiny, strong, more powerful than ever!
Finding a good crit group has been described as “somewhat like dating.” Just because you find a body of people willing to read your material, and willing to spend time talking to you about it, doesn’t mean they are the right group for you. In fact, just because they are great with someone else doesn’t mean they are right for you! Find people you can trust, who have the best of intentions, who are honest (even if it hurts), but aren’t going to just try to make you write the way they write, or make you say what they want you to say. It’s a fine balance.
At the end, weigh each comment and see what works and feels right for you. Developing the ability to more or less neutralize your ego, so that you can honestly consider feedback, is a skill unto itself. Any writer is at risk of losing their voice if they simply accept every bit of feedback given. At the same time, if you aren’t open and receptive, you will continue to miss the things you were missing all along, and your story will never be as strong as it could potentially be.
Good luck to you all, keep writing, and keep honing your craft!