Some writers like input at every phase of their projects. I tend to keep my work close until I really feel I’ve worked out the major issues. But at some point, I reach a state that I’ll call “page blindness.”
When you go page blind, you start to miss little mistakes and, more importantly, you know so much about your story that you miss what may be serious holes in your story. It all makes sense in your head, so you’re not noticing that it’s not on the page.
BEFORE: Choose your readers wisely
Because of page blindness, it’s essential to have a few good readers review your work before you send it out to agents. As excited as you may be to get your manuscript out there, do NOT skip this step.
— Don’t have to be experts in your genre but should be able to appreciate it.
— Don’t have to be writers, but should be able to articulate what worked or didn’t work for them.
— Must be able to read and give feedback without their egos or their own styles getting in the way.
Fundamentally, good readers understand what you’re trying to accomplish and appreciate the qualities of your style. They can be honest but gentle. They can identify and discuss what did and didn’t work for them in a story.
Ah, but how do you find these magical readers?
Join local writing groups. Take workshops. Become part of a community of writers. Check out web sites like AbsoluteWrite.com and the local chapters of the SCBWI. I also recently saw on #kidlitchat on Twitter (another good resource) that someone had found her critique partner through Writercon.
AFTER: How to take notes with grace
You chose your readers wisely, now trust them. My readers, Michelle Chihara and Josh Kamensky (he guests on Josh Malbin’s blog here), happen to be talented writers, voracious readers, and great editors. I trust their knowledge, their skill, and the fact that they won’t beat me about the head and shoulders unnecessarily. Trusting them means that I have to listen to them even when I don’t like what I’m hearing.
Even for experienced writers, listening to notes can be difficult. Here’s the important thing to remember: You have all the power. You can decide which notes to take and which to disregard.
–Don’t get defensive.
Your job is to nod, smile, write it down and then let it sit. I often find myself saying things like, “Interesting” or “I hadn’t thought of that” while, inside, I’m screaming, “No, no! You don’t understand my genius!” I’m usually glad I kept that thought to myself. (Also wise to keep to yourself: “They laughed at me at the academy!” and “You’ll be sorry. You’ll ALL be sorry.”)
It’s easier said than done, but ideally, you want to approach review and revision with curiosity and confidence. Stay open to possibilities that may better your work. Have faith in your ability to fix what’s broken. Trust your readers, then trust yourself.