Imagine that you are walking down railroad tracks in the dead of night. You are following the tracks because you know that eventually, they will lead to your desired destination.
After a few hours you realize that you are getting close. Now, you are standing at the bottom of a huge hill that curves around at the top. You are unable to see what might come around the corner. You notice, though, that there are people standing on another hill across from the top of your hill and they can see everything clearly. But instead of calling to them and asking if the coast is clear, you walk up the hill and WHAM!
I don’t know about you, but the thought of getting hit by a train is not my idea of fun. Yet some writers allow themselves to get crunched more often than you might think. That train represents anything that can derail or destroy your writing career; namely, a story that hasn’t been given the best treatment. Calling to the people on the other hill and having them watch out for you, especially when they are willing, is one of the wisest moves you could make.
One of the most important steps in polishing your story, be it a novel length or shorter, is critiquing. Now, don’t misunderstand, this is not as horrifying as it may sound. I’m not talking about having someone read your stuff then they commence tearing you and your work to shreds. Critiquing is simply allowing someone (or a few some ones) to read your work and help you see where you can improve. They can help you avoid the oncoming train. When I utilize this step, I discover areas of weakness in my story, misspelled words and character flaws; but I’m also given encouragement that helps me to feel better about my work.
People that you might consider for critiquing should be individuals, who love to read, will be honest, and have some idea of grammar, sentence structure, story flow, etc… I usually don’t ask friends who will only tell me the good and not the bad and ugly, but utilize online writing communities instead. The two that I have had the most fun and impact with have been http://www.writing.com (WdC) and www.scribophile.com . These sites introduce you to other writers and allow a two-way reviewing that will help both of you to improve. Others that I’ve heard of (some of which may have a cost associated) are: www.critters.org , www.fanstory.com , The Next Big Writer , and Quantum Muse.
Case in point, I wrote a short story titled “Escape”. When I completed the second draft, I felt like it was good, but it could’ve been better. I submitted it on WdC and within one day received two reviews. As this was the first time that I had ever posted one of my works for others to see, I was understandably nervous. Both reviewers rated me at 4 ½ out of 5 stars; but they also showed me what I needed to fix. Thanks to them (and my editor VicToria Freudiger) I was able to do a re-write that made the story better. I felt very confident that I had done my best.
The process is fairly simply. Others read your work and then give anywhere from general to very detailed feedback on what they thought (good and bad). No one writes rude or offensive comments, and everyone, so far, has been wonderfully supportive. Now that’s not to say that someone out there in cyberspace might choose to be rude; however, I’ve not had that experience.
Other sources for review would be writers that you network with, especially if you have a good rapport with them (see my previous Guest Blog, Reach Out and Touch as well as The Worst Achilles Heel for a Writer.) Also, offering to review another’s work before asking to have yours done goes a long way towards reciprocity.
Do yourself a favor and avoid the complacency that could lead to getting smashed by a train. The more you get used to receiving critiques, the better your writing will be.