Every writer I know who has lasted in the publishing industry for more than five years has one thing in common: a support system that functions on multiple levels. Everything about this industry (querying agents, sending stories out on submission, the erratic way in which we get paid, etc.) tends to weed writers out and wear us down. But those of us with multi-level support are more likely to weather the storms of self-doubt.
There are three key types of support for writers:
Critique: People who offer feedback on your writing in exchange for your feedback on theirs.
Mentorship: People ahead of you in their career who inspire you.
Accountability: People who help keep you on track for your writing and career goals.
The key to emotional well-being and continued productivity is knowing which part of your support system to call on when. The crazy thing is, once you start looking, you can find support everywhere: from writers and non-writers, people you may never meet in real life, or authors who don’t even know you exist.
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to delve into all three sides of the triangle. But today’s deep dive starts with that moment when you can no longer be objective about your work. Even worse, you can’t figure out what the hell you’re writing in the first place, and, oops, you’re 50,000 words in, but, damn, that last sentence was fire!
You need a fresh set of eyes that are attached to someone else’s brain. I typically know I’ve hit this wall when I’m moving the same sentence to four different places in a MS, deleting it, reinserting it, and then adding a comma because surely that’s going to solve the problem. If you’re at the tinkering-with-no-progress point in a project, call in your Critique Support.
Critique Groups: To refine your writing, gather a small group of writers who exchange work according to preset rules and time frames. The group format lets you see a variety of reactions to your work and triangulate information to see what you need to fix. If four out of the five of members of the group say, “I was confused and had no idea what happened in this scene,” you know you have a serious problem. If two of the members get in a huge fight about which one of your characters is the worst—fantastic! You’ve written something that invoked passion in others. If one person hates something, well that’s interesting and helpful feedback, but maybe it’s more about their personal preference than your writing. The added bonus—a critique group will help you develop a thicker skin, which will come in real handy when those reviews start going up at Goodreads.
Critique Partners: A good critique partner is worth their weight in gold because they’re willing to read the same chapter again, and again, and again. This is the writer you swap work with on a regular basis and provide reciprocal critiques. It’s helpful to specify which type of critique you need, depending on the stage of your project.
- Big picture edits to check for pacing problems, voice consistency, or other over-arcing issues
- Line edits when you’re tightening, refining voice, clarifying action, working on visualization, etc.
- Copy edits to check for grammar, consistency, and formatting issues before you send out for potential publication
- Positivity Passes when you need to hear what you’re doing well. This is often overlooked and highly under-rated. Ask for this type of feedback when you’re thinking things like My writing sucks and Why am I even doing this? A positivity pass provides some much-needed validation. And if your CP can find something nice to say about the work, you won’t have to throw the whole thing in the garbage.
Beta Readers: Beta readers are as close to a reader shopping a bookstore as you can get. These are one-time readers who give initial impressions on how your story is coming across. The super fantastic thing: beta readers don’t have to be writers. They just have to be readers whose opinions you trust. More information on finding beta readers and critique partners can be found here.
If you’re asking someone to read a full manuscript, that’s a huge time commitment, so start by asking if they would read the first ten pages for you. If they’re into your story, then ask if they’d like to read the whole MS. If they’re not into the story, it gives them a graceful out. Again, look for overlapping places where multiple readers comment. This means you’re either doing something really right or really wrong.
Critique lets you see your work (more) objectively. It lets you know what your strengths as a writer are and points out places where you could spend a little more time revising. If you get your critiques and realize you are great at description but your dialogue could use work, consider holding yourself financially accountable and invest in a class to help refine your skills.
One thing to keep in mind: Critiques are other people’s opinions. It is your story, so disregard the feedback that is irrelevant to your vision. Incorporate and revise based on the feedback that hit home.
Critique support often turns into emotional support as well. Writing is a weird industry, and only another writer is going to understand the sting of a query rejection or why it takes four years for your book to get to print. That emotional support has kept me from walking away from this industry more than once, and it all started with swapping some pages.
Bio: Jessica Conoley connects story tellers and tells stories. She writes essays, creative non-fiction, flash fiction, and fantasy. Her coaching services demystify the business aspect of writing by drawing on her past experiences as president of a non-profit and managing editor of a literary magazine. In addition to developmental editorial services, she offers virtual workspaces and critique groups as a way to foster creative community for writers. Learn more at: https://jessicaconoley.com/ or on Twitter @jaconoley