Oh, we writers are an insecure bunch aren’t we?
When we start out, we’re hesitant and flighty, nervous and fretful. We crave affirmation that we’re on the right track, but we stop so often to ask, we make little progress. Then it doesn’t help that there are so many book/websites/blogs to read about how to be a great writer that it just makes us more insecure in who we are.
So are we good or not? How do we know? When do we find out? Why isn’t there a rule about this?
Um, well, this is the problem with the subjectivity in good writing. No one really knows. But that doesn’t help you, the new writer.
How Do You Know When It’s Time To Show Your Work To Someone Else And Ask For Advice?
1. When you have something to show. In my humble opinion, it is far more difficult to analyze and criticize a chapter than it is an entire book. A beta reader or a critique partner can’t see the whole intention of your story with just a few pages. My humble advice? Wait until you have a complete draft and let them see the whole thing.
2. When you have someone who is experienced to mentor you. We all have people in our lives who will fawn over us for every little sentence we slap together. As loving as that it, it rarely challenges us to be better writers. Instead, find a mentor or a writing buddy who can give you honest feedback.
3. When you’ve written and rewritten and rewritten until you’re absolutely sure you can’t improve on the piece. Too many authors are in a rush to publish. If they neglect good craftsmanship for the sake of a fast buck, then it’s harder to improve and become better. Respect the art, respect your reader and respect other writers out there by taking your time.
4. When you are ready to hear the worst. Nobody likes to be corrected. But in this business, if you want to have long lasting readers, many books sold, and agents or publishers taking you seriously, you’ll need to face criticism bravely. Don’t get defensive, just go back and make your creation better.
5. When your creative process is a complete one. I mean is that when you get to the place where you don’t feel like you have to defend your editorial choices, then you are ready for another set of eyes. Defending yourself when you are misunderstood is going backward creatively. If you are jittery and insecure in your decision making, then the last thing you need is someone over your shoulder telling you that your setting should be in Kansas not Boston (happened to me) that your main character suffered too much (also happened to me) and that all editorial changes need approval from this “reader”. (Ditto.)
6. When you have such specific detail figured out that no one can steal your idea. I think that sometimes new authors throw big vague ideas around to other authors looking to them for applause. “Hey guys! How about a romance, but you know, she’s engaged to someone else and he’s a veterinarian!” As soon as Little Insecure Writer says something like at, Mr. Smug I Have More Experience will say something like, “Hasn’t Nicholas Sparks done that to death?” And then Little Insecure Writer will second guess his vision — which included snakes, a roller derby, a pie eating contest, Abraham Lincoln and pretzels. Nope. Keep your story ideas close to your chest until they’re fully done.
7. When you know what is sacred in your story. By sacred I mean the elements that you will not tamper with, no matter what. For example, my book Soulless Creatures takes place at the University of Oklahoma in 1986. This setting is sacred to me because I was a freshman at OU in 1986. No matter WHAT ANYONE SAYS I’M NOT CHANGING THIS SETTING! I wrote the story around the setting and I believe (because I’ve also followed the first six point in this post) that the story is strong and wouldn’t work anywhere else. Click here to read the first six chapters!
8. When you don’t look to the right or the left. By this I mean you stop comparing yourself to other writers. You absolutely cannot be a successful novelist if you imitate someone else. You need to find your own voice, your own style and your own passions. The only way to do this is to write. A lot.
9. When you stop drafting and you’re ready for editing. This seems obvious, doesn’t it? I’m referring to the bad habits that some writers have of writing a sentence/paragraph/chapter and then revising it to death, repeatedly. This become a problem when the revision obsession chokes out forward motion. There’s value in having one full completed draft, as imperfect as it is, before the act of revision begins.
10. When you’ve silenced your inner critics. I’ll be honest, they don’t ever completely go away. That little nagging voice can cripple you creatively. A writer who battles those demons and can’t overcome them won’t be able to handle criticism, no matter how gentle.
11. When you can understand why your advisors are suggesting a specific change. There is so much to know in this business. If your critique group quotes Robert McKee about the what’s required in a second act, listen to them! But if they sound like they’re pulling something out of their butt, don’t. The hardest part of this is that we have to write an awful lot of words before we can recognize the difference.
Crafting a story can create a big hot mess. There are characters you don’t know yet. Names, descriptions and motivations to be decided, plots to be ironed out, about twenty thousand and one decisions that have to be made and this journey of writing a novel, with all of its twists and turns — which is a private journey, just between you and your computer — does not need help from people who don’t know what they’re talking about!