As soon as you decide to take your writing beyond simply having fun, the obvious next step is to get feedback from others so you can start identifying your strengths and weaknesses. This is important because others can look at your work objectively in a way you will never be able to. Without all the context and backstory swirling around in the author’s head, a new reader can much more easily point out areas of confusion and tedium.
There are tons of ways to get this feedback. You’ve got the popular websites like Critique Circle and Scribophile, there are forums and chat servers designed specifically for writing communities, subreddits, personal friends, or if you’re adventurous, local writing groups. And in pretty much every case, you’re expected to return the favor.
Initially, this can seem like a necessary nuisance: pay your dues so you can get your feedback. However, as any veteran of these communities will tell you, that’s actually the source for the majority of your improvement.
Feedback on your own writing can definitely help with that particular story. Once in a while, it may also clue you in to one of your major weak areas. But nothing teaches you like critiquing someone else! When you look at someone else’s work, you’re unbiased, detached. You don’t have author-goggles clouding your vision, and can assess the components of the story like an engineer trying to fix a broken machine. I think there are several reasons this is so beneficial…
- Train your inner editor how to do its job.
- Force yourself to articulate why something does or doesn’t work.
- Become aware of trends that annoy you as a reader.
- Notice common mistakes that you also do in your writing.
- Practice brainstorming how to solve an issue, and thus better apply those skills to your own work.
Critiquing others is essentially how you can train yourself to identify and solve problems. Feedback on your own work can lead to simply following what others tell you to do–and even if you understand why, it’s not always easy to extrapolate to other situations. By critiquing many other authors and many other stories, instead of a single instance of an issue, you learn to recognize the patterns, the core craft issues underlying the individual story problems, and you also have to figure out how to explain what you think to the critiquee.
Even if it intimidates you, even if it seems like a bother, force yourself to critique often and critique widely. Push yourself beyond a 1:1 ratio and critique many more people than who critique you. In my opinion, for every one of your chapters that someone reads, you should be critiquing at least five other people’s chapters.
As for how to give critique even if you have no idea what you’re doing, that will be the subject of a blog post in the near future, so stay tuned!