I’m wondering how many of you out there are writers. And of you, how many have some form of filter before you submit your work to an agent or traditional publisher, or before you self-publish. When I first started writing, I read the advice in books that said “join a critique group” or “get beta readers” or “hire an editor” but I resisted. I thought that was just a way for beginners to get their feet wet. I was trained in college. I had written professionally. I taught at the college level. Surely they weren’t talking to me.
I don’t care how much experience you have going into the first story or novel you’re writing. Or your fourth. Or your tenth. It’s not enough. You don’t know enough. There’s always more you could know, more out there you could learn. And even once you have the rules and techniques figured out, you’re still at a disadvantage when you read your own work—you’re too close to it. You know what happens and what the back stories are. There are no surprises and no cliffhangers. That makes for sloppy reading, which makes for sloppy editing. You’ll miss the plot holes, because you’ll fill them in from the unwritten back story. Repetitive words? You won’t notice them; you’ll skim right over them. Awkward sentence structure will escape your notice because you were the one who wrote the sentence to begin with.
You’d catch the mistakes if someone else made them. You just can’t see them on your own pages.
It’s no fault of your own; it’s just the nature of writing. Maybe some of it is ego. Just like no one thinks her child is ugly, no one wants to think her writing is awful. But most of the writers I know are too hard on themselves. The mistakes they make are ones they just can’t see.
Enter the critiquers.
Critique groups are hailed far and wide, in conferences and in how-to writing books, as a writer’s best friend. And I have to agree. There are both in-person and online versions of critique groups, as well as beta readers or editors who can be of assistance. There are merits to each.
In-person groups are great because they allow you to network with local writers and get immediate feedback. I happen to belong to two such groups. One of them has us bring no more than five double-spaced pages with us (plus copies for the group to mark up) and we read our work aloud. This group believes that the audible reading of the work allows the author to hear things that she otherwise wouldn’t hear. After she’s done reading, there is time for discussion before the marked up pages are returned to her. The other group I’m in has us submit work in advance, which allows for a much longer body of work. There is no recitation of the work when we meet, but there is still discussion, and written comments are still exchanged.
Online groups are another option because they allow you to find groups focusing on your specific genre or niche. This can be especially beneficial, for example, if you write romance and are looking for assistance with intimate scenes, or if you write murder mysteries and are looking for help with the forensics and procedures. Any genre will have conventions that vary slightly from the general fiction rules, and working with a group familiar with those specific norms can be helpful.
Another option is to find beta readers and critique partners. I have five people who I trust to read my WIPs at any time and give me constructive feedback. I’m lucky enough to have two family members who have a background in writing and are voracious readers, so I get fast turnaround from them. Two others I met at local writing activities, and we’ve since been working together to our mutual benefit. And one is a local woman who found me not long ago through my blog. These critique partners are invaluable because I can send them large chunks of text and get almost immediate information from them.
I can’t tell you that you have to have people review your work before you ship it, but it’s a definite plus. If there are local critique groups near you, check them out and see if they’re for you. If not, try an online group on for size, or find just one writing partner to try out as a beta reader. If none of these options appeal to you, consider hiring an editor. Consider hiring one anyway. Polishing your work before you send it out is always a good idea. And no matter what option you choose, remember: a second opinion can’t be a bad thing, right?
I took a vote. The “eyes” have it.