How do we know he’s (the manuscript is) the one?
Writing is a lonely endeavor. We sit in front of our computer screen, churning out a rough draft over many weeks, months, or even years. When we type “The End”, we grin with the realization this manuscript is the most awesome piece of literature that’s ever been written. Move over Harper Lee.
Then we listen the sage advice to stick the manuscript in a drawer for at least three weeks. We know it’s easier to kill (delete) distant cousins (old words) than it is to kill (delete) our children (new words). So we bring up our Word Document and begin reading the carnage, and realize, This isn’t as awesome as I thought. It’s really rough. Of course it is – it’s a ROUGH DRAFT. Our first instinct may be to chuck the computer against the wall, run into our bedroom closet, and sob while in a fetal position. But berating ourselves won’t make our manuscript better.
What will make our relationship (with our manuscript) better?
Writers have different methods. Some start by fixing all the spelling and grammar errors before tackling the larger issues. Others go through it and jot notes about all the things that aren’t working, ponder the notes, and return to the manuscript for triage. Still others print the whole document in miniature, highlight the problems, and overhaul the manuscript. Writers like me just read and edit it over and over and over and over until it’s better. Now we’re certain THIS time the manuscript is the most awesome piece of literature that’s ever been written. Move over J.K. Rowling.
There are the writers who query at this stage. A few are successful, landing that dream agent in two seconds. Most are not.
Because we need other eyes on our manuscript. We have our strengths and weaknesses, so we need other people to tell us what’s good and what’s not working. Anyone can read our manuscript: our mother, the letter carrier, the dog, a student, our ten-year-old son, the local librarian. While some use family and friends, I recommend using other writers.
Where do we find our soul mates (other writers)?
I write children’s books. I’ve used the SCBWI board to find a manuscript exchange partner. NESCWBI (the New England chapter) also has a critique group finder. Mary Kole, an agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc. has written posts to help writers find each other to set up manuscript exchanges. Conferences are also a good resource because most people live in the same area and we can see if we hit it off in person. If we have a blog, we can write a post we’re looking for a critique partner. If another blogger mentions s/he needs feedback on a manuscript, we can volunteer to provide that feedback.
How do we know we’ve found the right person?
We find the special writer online or at a conference. We hit it off. We agree to send the query and the first chapter. This is like preparing for a first date as we wait to hear back on pins and needles. When we receive that person’s query and first chapter, do we like what we read? If we don’t, how do we let the person down easy?
“It’s not you, it’s me. I’m swamped right now, so this may not be the best time for me to exchange.”
Or we can be one of those people and not respond back. (Don’t be one of those people.)
And if the other writer is unenthusiastic about our writing, we try not to take it personally.
If we do like the other writer’s work and they like ours, congratulations! But when it comes to critique, being exclusive may not be the best relationship for us. We need more than one reader because we need more than one person’s perspective on our writing. One option is to repeat the process and find one or two other writers to read our work.
Do we like online dating or prefer to meet face-to-face?
Local writers may come together as a critique group in either the virtual or real world. We may have to try these different scenarios to see which one makes us the most comfortable. If we find people who are too far to meet in person, we have to decide if we can live with a long-distance relationship.
Can we date only one person at a time or do we like to play the field?
Only we can figure out what will work best for us. There are many things to consider no matter which one we choose. Do we exchange frequently enough? Does the feedback provide constructive criticism or is it too positive or too negative? Remember, we’re doing this to become a better writer, not to be ripped to shreds. And we shouldn’t rip anyone else to shreds either. Everyone has the potential to improve. Everyone. It’s not our job to crush dreams. We’re not qualified.
What if our first date didn’t go as well as we’d hoped?
Maybe the feedback is too negative. Maybe we don’t respect everyone’s opinion. Maybe our gut is telling us we’re being steered in the wrong direction. My advice is to separate our ego from our instinct. If everyone is telling us something is wrong, it probably is. If we’re getting conflicting advice, then it’s up to us to decide. Conventional wisdom states to sit on the feedback for three days, so we’ll be less defensive and more receptive to the critique.
What if we date a few times and it’s not working?
Then it’s time to move on. If the chemistry isn’t there, we shouldn’t prolong the agony. There are plenty of writers out there. Somewhere out there are the perfect critique partners for us. Good luck finding the critique partner(s) of your dreams!