Why the hell not?
I had likeable characters. An intriguing storyline. Plot twists aplenty. Shouldn’t that be enough? I became frustrated enough I considered tossing it in the trash and never writing again.
I’m so glad I didn’t do that.
I never figured out the secret until I met my online writing group. Never did I imagine how scary, how heart breaking, and how rewarding posting my work for others to critique could be. Unlike many writers I’ve talked to about this subject, I went in knowing I needed help and direction. Even so, the first round of comments on my first chapter made me bang my head down on my desk. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t think it was that bad.
After heaving myself out of my funk, I laid out the critiques in front of me. While reading through them, I figured something out right away. Critiques are like shopping in a thrift shop. There were piles of information and advice in those pages, but not all of it A) fit my style, B) made sense, or C) was correct.
And this is the big but…
When I took time to sift through the information, I came away with gold. Sometimes it was a single line of advice:
Passive voice drags the flow down.
Omit phrases like’ began to’, and ‘ started to’ and just get to the point.
When writing in first person, omit phrases like I saw/heard/smelled/knew, and simply show what the character sees.
When I stepped back, checked my pride at the literary door, and considered these hidden golden nuggets amongst the fluff, my writing went from ‘meh’ to ‘hey, that’s actually pretty good’. Once I learned a few tricks and gained some confidence, I applied my new set of guidelines while critiqing others’ work. I learned even more. What works? What doesn’t work. Why? Having to explain to the author the answers to those questions allowed me to recognize issues with my own work, too.
Many of us are blind to our own flaws. No matter how good we think we are, seeing ourselves through the eyes of others, considering advice before taking offense, can take us to the next level of greatness.