How can you become a better writer? Let people rip your work to shreds so you can rearrange the pieces to create a shinier, more engaging novel. Ok, maybe that’s a bit drastic, but by how much? I’ve had many conversations with newer writers who think their novel is done but it’s only been read by their mom or a friend. What? That is not the kind of feedback that will lead to quality. It might boost the ego. I mean, how many moms are going to say your manuscript sucks? A few, yes, but most would not.
You cannot write your best piece of work without high-quality feedback from multiple people. You need people to read it who know about the craft of writing, are discerning and careful enough to pick up on problem areas as well as strengths, and most importantly, have the gumption to tell you the truth about things.
Case in point: The Muse Crew. They just finished reading a draft of my incredibly rough (did I mention this was very rough?) draft of my 4th book. I knew it needed lots of work. It was only my first go of translating ideas to page. I had the group read it early in the writing process so I could think about the overall content, character arc, and story arc as I did my intense revisions. I did this before with the group and it worked well if I could handle the critiques. You have to expect them that early (and even later) in the game. The rewards that come with those hits to my self-esteem are well worth it. I get a sense of what works in the big picture and what doesn’t. I see the story more clearly as I understand how others are interpreting it.
There is always someone in the group who picks up on something that I didn’t think of and that will require quite a bit of reworking. When this happens, there is this moment where everything slows down like in the fighting moments of The Matrix (or insert your favorite action movie here). In that slow-motion moment, I briefly become a broken writer. I thought I had one thing but now I see through the eyes of others that my characters need more development to reach the level I was shooting for or that maybe there is a plot hole that will lead to major revisions. Whatever it is, it hurts for a moment (or to be honest two). Then, there is the slow-motion rally, where I switch movements, thwart the negativity (or in our analogy here, the bad guy) and move forward with action and back to regular speed.
I’m not going to lie. It’s not easy. Constructive criticism can be difficult to take, especially when it means more work. But, look carefully at the constructive. It will help you build a better version of your book and make you a stronger writer. The end goal should be to produce our best. In order to do that, you need to have multiple high-quality critiques from people that you trust who know about writing. Then, look carefully at their comments, take what you can from them, let go of the ones that aren’t helpful, and create a shinier version of your masterpiece.