Starting the Critique Period
(c) Amber Byers
I think it's about time for an update on my book. As you know, I've written nearly all of it (about 90-95%) but haven't been writing anything new for awhile. I took the summer off and spent most of the fall working on building up my editing business. I was also pondering what to do next, and in which order - critique groups, beta readers, developmental editor, copy editor. There are so many possibilities, especially for self-published authors!
Anyway, I recently decided that a critique group would give me the best feedback of what I was looking for - a detailed perspective from readers regarding character development, overall storyline, content, and structure. I did a lot of research online and was surprised at how hard it was to find a group. There are a lot of groups online where I could have submitted my book and had it critiqued on a one time basis, but I was really looking for the personal, in depth experience that you build with people you meet with repeatedly over a long term basis.
Luckily, I found one in person critique partner and one online critique partner and we started critiquing each other's books a few weeks ago. Very quickly, I realized that critiquing can be a challenging process. Now, this is coming from someone who genuinely searched out a critique group in order to gather valuable, detailed insight into what could make my book better. However, the first time I got a critique back with those valuable insights, I admit that it was difficult for me. My natural insecurity reared its ugly head and tried to play tricks on my mind. For example, instead of hearing "clarify this section" my mind automatically translated that comment into "why did you think you could even write this book?" Which is a kind of ridiculous response when I think about it.
Fortunately, one thing I've been working on a lot over the last year is changing from a negative mindset to a positive mindset, which bolsters my confidence. As an attorney, I got used to a lot of negativity. There are constantly people fighting each other, especially when you're in litigation, and there are plenty of opposing counsel and sometimes even colleagues who are constantly disparaging you or your work. In my experience, it was simply a way of life that there were more people trying to tear each other down than bring each other up in the legal field. Add in the fact that to do a good job as an attorney, you have to imagine every possible scenario, however unlikely, that could jeopardize your client's interests - and you can see how negativity seeps into everything you see.
When I decided to leave the practice of law behind, I also chose to leave all of that negativity behind, though it takes longer to shake than simply walking out the door of the firm and never going back. To aid this process, I've started writing daily gratitude lists of a few things I'm thankful for each day. Little things that would have gone unnoticed before, like sweet comments from a friend or unexpected surprises that make me laugh. And it's been so good. I've also started relying on my 5 senses in an effort to focus on what's actually happening right now. In letting go of the potential crises that await around the corner, I am becoming much more able to live in the moment and be aware of how wonderful life actually is.
So, I've done a fair bit of research and practice over the last year and had some tricks up my own sleeve when my mind started to play tricks on me. First, I didn't do anything right away. I usually find it's best not to make any sudden moves when I'm feeling insecure. I also leaned on my friends and family, both for emotional support as well as perspective. I got together and shared my concerns with one friend, who agreed to read over my book and give me her perspective as well. For a lot of reasons, I really value her perspective and think she will be able to give me valuable feedback and encouragement. And finally, I addressed my insecurities directly with my critique partner. I've found that usually the best thing in any difficult situation in life is to simply be myself. So I shared my struggles and asked to sandwich in critiques between layers of encouragement. For example, to say "this section works really well", "improve this section here", and "keep writing!" As an added benefit, by pointing out sections where my writing works well, I also see what is working well for readers and have an example of what good writing looks like. The best part? When my critique partner responded, we ended up having a much more detailed conversation about our writing, our background, and what we're looking for. Plus, she told me that many authors vacillate between "This is a masterpiece!" and "This is crap! Why did I waste my time on this?!" and just hearing that totally made me laugh, because I could relate so well!