So, back to that writing thing. I took a big step (for me) and joined a critique group a few months back. I took the first couple of chapters of my story and sent them off to small handful of strangers for a round robin group edit. They in turn sent me their work and we passed them off to each other and at the end we received our work back with four sets of edits, notes, and feedback.
To say I stressed out during that time would be an understatement....a HUGE understatement. Now don't get me wrong. I never once feared they would be cruel in their critique. I like to believe writers are a kind group, who are out to bolster other writers, not knock them to the ground. But all the same, I was taking something that was near and dear to me, something I had invested a huge amount of time and emotion into, and handing it off to perfect strangers. I was putting myself out there in the most exposed way possible. I'm pretty shy by nature, so talking to someone about what I'm writing gets me tongue tied. Actually showing someone what I've written takes that fear to a whole new level. What if they didn't get what I was trying to convey? What if they didn't get the funny parts, the sad parts, and everything in between? Even worse - what if they just had no interest in reading it at all? All of these were real possibilities. I'm not going to kid myself. I know just how difficult this writing thing can be and the likelihood of ever actually being published. (It's a wonder anyone puts themselves through this.) But I also know that in order to learn and grow as a writer I need to show my work to other people. I have to open it up to scrutiny, and yes, criticism from others.
I'm happy to report that all the breath holding these last few months was not necessary. Their feedback was incredibly generous. They got the humor, they teared up at certain parts, and they were (I hope) genuinely interested in the story. One of the best compliments came when someone said it made them hug their husband and child a little tighter that night. Now, they also pointed out my issues with punctuation. I'm pretty sure I was absent during the lesson on comma and semi colon use. They also found the holes where a piece of information was left out. When you read something over and over and you know the story so well in your head, you tend to overlook when certain things are missing. They pointed out times where the humor was too soon, the drama needed to be ramped up, and when a piece of dialogue didn't ring true for a character. The cool thing about that is that in only a couple of chapters they already knew who my characters were. They understood their personality and they immediately picked up on something that seemed out of character for them. The other cool thing was that they disagreed with each other at times. One pointed out not loving slang in dialogue, while another said they felt it was true to they way people speak in real life. Sometimes it's just a matter of personal preference and has nothing to do with whether you can write. Overall their feedback was constructive, and reaffirming. The other cool thing? I got to read four other pieces of work and experience their creativity process too. These could be the first drafts of really amazing books and I got to be one of the first to read them.
See, putting yourself out there can turn out to be a really good thing.
Have you tried it lately?