Baring It All

I don’t know a single person who likes to get undressed at the doctor’s office. I sure don’t. But since I know a yearly exam is important for my health, I don the flimsy hospital gown and force myself to endure the poking and prodding. Since my grandpa died of melanoma, I also have my doctor do a skin check, which means baring every freckle to her critical eye.

I have to admit, I’m always embarrassed to reveal myself in such a personal way. After all, when I’m on the examining table, I’m exposed, vulnerable, unable to hide anything. Every blemish is out in open.

I had a similar sensation when I recently sent my book to my freelance editor and my critique partner—the feeling that I was completely out in the open with everything and under examination for every problem.

I felt naked. I was baring the most intimate parts of the inner workings of my mind. Now they would see all my mistakes and know I’m not a perfect writer, that I have faults beneath the polished veneer. What would they say? What would they think of me now?

I'm having similar trepidation thinking ahead to the release of The Preacher's Bride in a few months. Soon, everyone will get to view my most personal thoughts, my writing, both the good and the bad. What will friends think of me then? Will they like what they see?

Have you ever felt that kind of vulnerability? When we send out our stories for others to read or critique, we’re opening ourselves up and exposing all our imperfections. Embarrassment creeps in, and we cringe at the thought that they’ve seen our naked books. Will they like what they see inspite of the obvious blemishes they’re sure to find?

The reality is that we have to get intense exams on our stories for their well-being. As hard as the scrutiny may be, we need to open up our work to the poking and prodding of those who can evaluate the “health” of our stories.

We have to tell ourselves the discomfort is all worth it, that we’d much rather find the problems early while we can still fix them, instead of waiting until it’s too late and an agent or editor sees those same blemishes.

And we need to brace ourselves for the fact that our stories will have imperfections—quite possibly lots of them. Mine did. Here’s just a sampling of the comments my freelance editor and critique partner found in the manuscript I recently finished:

• “I don’t feel the sense of impending doom (if I’m supposed to feel that). What is it you want me to feel here?”

• “You seem to go in to these info dumps. While well written, after a few lines I find myself skimming.” (OUCH!)

• “So, other than some neat imagery, what was the point of this scene? How did it advance the plot? I kinda hit the end and thought…okay…what happened?” (OUCH!)

• “Your [hero] is coming across as a bully here. . . How could he do this? Is he so selfish that he'd hurt her to save his own pride? I was starting to hope he might be coming around.”

• “I’m no longer marking repetitions of this word, so I’d suggest running a find for it since it is one I see used quite frequently.” (OUCH!)

I have to say, both of these women did an outstanding job sharing positives too. In fact, I’ve teased Keli that every day I wait for her critiqued chapter, that I’m addicted to her smiley face comments and hearing all her impressions of each scene.  (As a side note: Keli is doing a series on critiquing this week. So far she's covered: How to Find Critique Partners and Six Steps for Approaching a Potential Critique PartnerShe has some very wise and professional tips.)

Here are my parting thoughts:

*Baring our stories to a few people is embarrassing, but if publication is our goal, then someday we’ll bare it all to the world. Everyone will see everything. We have to get used to the scrutiny, because it’ll only grow more intense.

*If we’re not uncomfortable, if we’re not feeling growing pains, if we’re not getting constructive criticism that prods us, then maybe we need to re-evaluate why. Do we need a new critique partner who can challenge us more? A freelance edit? Is it time to read another writing craft book?

*We can’t get better unless we get vulnerable.

Are you putting your manuscripts under the right amount of scrutiny—the kind that can truly diagnosis what’s wrong? Is it  hard for you to be vulnerable with your writing, or are you getting used to baring it all?


  1. I must admit I felt vulnerable when I spoke to a publisher recently. Funnily enough, I didn't think I was baring my innermost thoughts when I sent her the ms. It only dawned on me when the voice on the other end of the line said, 'Hello'.

    I panicked and my voice ran off to hide for a second. I knew I had to make a good impression. After all, you can hide behind your writing sometimes, but never when you're having a conversation. Suppose she hated my voice? Suppose I said something wrong or stumbled over my words? What about my tone of voice?

    That was a phone conversation in which I felt totally naked!

  2. LOL I recognize many of those comments! That must mean I have some really good critique partners too:)) I really don't mind the baring it all--it has to be done and I have always grown from the comments:)

  3. Finding a great crit partner is crucial. But I have to say that going in for my yearly exam is way worse! :)

  4. Many writers I know do not react too well to honest critique. They will gladly take all the praise, but if you add some suggestions for improvement, they will take it personally. Still, I try to make my comments as honest as possible, and if they are offended, I try not to take *that* personally.

    When handing out stories and asking for opinions, on the other hand, I find it hard, sometimes, to accept the reactions. However, I try to take them as valuable suggestions. I mean, those people I am asking for help are not waiting for an opportunity to hurt me, right? They are friends, after all. Many of them write, some of them know exactly how my imagination works. And, in the end, they are only making suggestions. If someone says he doesn't like a particular point, I am free to ignore it (after some consideration, please). And if several people complain about exactly the same... hmm, maybe they are right?

  5. The first time I put myself in the hands of an outside critique partner, it hurt. BAD! But those comments, many similar to those you've listed and more, have helped me grow leaps and bounds since then. When we're so close to our stories, we can no longer see the major flaws. We know what we mean to illustrate with our words, but if we're not conveying it to our readers, I hope a critique partner or freelance editor will tell me before I've put it in front of an agent or publishing house.

  6. Thanks for baring it all for us today. :) Critiques of our writing bites to the very bone, and yet are necessary. After, we need to lick our wounds and do better.

    I always appreciate your posts, but todays was super helpful.

  7. I couldn't get a babysitter when I had to go to my yearly last month. So I had to bring my girls. Now that was fun! Really though, like everything I tried to turn it into a learning experience. (Now that was fun.) I shared with them how important it is to get my body checked so it can stay healthy.

    I'm aiming for a robust MS too. Like you wrote the other do what needs to be done. ;)

    ~ Wendy

  8. Jody, I've been trudging along this road to writing for five years or so, and I've never gotten used to putting my words out there for someone else to read. My wife, Kay, is my first reader, which indicates how strong our marriage is, because there are times I want to shout, "No, you're wrong." But I know in my heart she isn't, so I make the changes, and the manuscript gets better.

    You're right, it's tantamount to sitting on a bare exam table in a poorly designed exam gown that results in significant southern exposure, waiting for the doctor to come in and pass judgment. But it's necessary.

    Thanks for sharing.

  9. Yesterday I was visiting a friend. One of her friends stopped by while I was there--someone I'd never met. As we talked and she found out I write, my friend went to her bookshelf and pulled off my memoir and handed it over. Talk about feeling vulnerable and exposed. It's one thing when strangers you don't know about perhaps pick up your book, but while you are sitting right was eye-opening to me that I still feel exposed. But that's okay. And I know that some folks just won't relate to or like what i've written. That's okay too.

  10. So funny that you draw this analogy; it's the same one I've used in talking to my friends about the publishing of my book. I told them I feel like I'm naked on the beach! Someone give me a towel! :) And yet that deep vulnerable writing is what I so love to read - so therefore I know it's what I must also offer!

  11. I tell my betas: be brutally honest. I'm a big boy, I can take it! Yes, I cringe when I get such honesty, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

    It is hard to be vulnerable with my writing, but it's necessary . . . just like the exams people must endure once they reach a certain age. : )

  12. Not as used to it as I should be. It's so scary and vulnerable. But you make an excellent point. Someday, hopefully, everyone's going to see it and I'll be baring it all to the world. So I better get over it now.

  13. I definitely feel vulnerable when sharing my work with others. I'm especially feeling this right now because I'm about to need beta readers for my first erotic romance (the complete opposite of what you write, lol.)

    I'm feeling so self-conscious that my readers will think I'm like my characters or share their values or practices--which I don't. I want to write a disclaimer at the top that says "I'm a good girl, I swear!"

  14. I have put my rough writing under the scrutiny of some people who represent those who might read it. I did it very early. Almost from the beginning.

    But now I wonder if I did it too soon. Is that possible?

    I think some of the feedback left me confused. I can't write the book others would have me write. I have to write the one that is mine. I don't mean this in a self-absorbed, too-sensitive-artist way, just as an acknowledgement that there are only certain books I can write and there are some books that only I can write. I can't write the book someone else wants (or would write).

    Where's the line? How should I draw it? I'm just not sure.

  15. Oh I like this. What comfort you've brought me today! So I'm not the only one who hears these things in a critique? Once I was told me my MC was unlikable. Of course I rushed to save her from a fate worse than death and have since made her utterly adorable, but the ouch factor was felt for weeks. *And thank you for answering my question!*

  16. I might award you the analogy queen after this great one today.

    Sigh. My agent dons the cap of The Scrutinizer with such aplomb and passion to ferret out EVERY POSSIBLE ISSUE that later, I am totally prepared for what anyone can say.

    It's been such a blessing but not always easy. Sometimes the truth hurts! LOL


  17. Sending my stories out for critique gives me the heebie-jeebies. I feel totally exposed. I'm not merely naked, though. In my case, my chest cavity's been sliced opened and my fragile beating heart is in someone else's hands.

    Despite my fear and trepidation, I want the feedback. It's what will enable me to take my story to the next level. Sure, it hurt to hear that my heroine was whiny and wimpy or that she came across as thickheaded and clueless, but if no one had told me that, I wouldn't have been able to make the needed changes.

    Well-meaning, trustworthy critique partners who have our best interests at heart can push us to make our stories even better than we thought possible. Their feedback helps us improve our writing and develop thicker skin, which we'll need when our books hit the shelves and the reviews start pouring in.

    Our CPs can also serve as our staunchest supporters and a sounding board when needed. A phrase that seems fitting when describing the critique relationship is tough love. They care enough to say what needs to be said but offer their comments with compassion and consideration.

  18. Fiction writing entails being vulnerable, at least in order to perfect one's craft and write stories that are deeply moving.

    The writer has to be in a place where she can handle this vulnerability. I think writers who balk at criticism, who shy away from sharing their writing, who get defensive when receiving feedback, among other reactions, aren't ready. Doesn't mean they can't get ready, but they aren't at that point in time. It could be sign of inexperience/immaturity as a writer or an indication that the writer has other things going on such that she isn't ready for more via her writing.

    You, however, will do fine, Jody. With each blog post, you show increasing poise and maturity. You are ready, and I pray the reading world is ready for you!

  19. Jody,
    First of all, kudos to you for having the courage to take your perhaps less-than-shiny critique comments and share them with us. As much as we'd like to see our babies as perfect, they often aren't... but can be with a little extra effort. But in sharing those comments with us, it helps us all see that critical comments can be good things when we can build off them.

    I've always said to my writing partner and my critique team that I want them to be as brutal as possible because I would MUCH rather that they pointed out an issue than an agent or editor or (worse) a reader. Sometimes what is obvious to others is not to us simply because we're too close to the project, but once they point it out, we might have a head-slap-oh-yeah! moment because of it. And every moment like that is worth it for an improved final product.

    Thank you for being vulnerable with us...

  20. It's hard! I've been in a very supportive critique group for about a year now. The time has allowed us to build trust so sending out my baby isn't painful. I know they'll find repetitious words--no matter how many times I find/replace, I still manage to repeat a new word!

    I think the nice part about being in a c.g. for a long time is that I know I can send them my books and they will see past the glaring mistakes (while pointing them out to me!) and know I'm capable of good writing. My books would not be to that polished level without their eyes.

  21. Given that I avoid going to doctors except for emergencies, I think I have a slightly different attitude about examinations. When I bare all it's with the certain knowledge that a problem exists and I need it identified so treatment can get underway.

    In terms of getting a manuscript critiqued I guess I have the same attitude, because by the time I've decided to show my writing to someone else I *know* there are problems that I need help identifying. I've steeled myself for the feedback and am eager to get the diagnosis so I can begin working towards a cure.

    But the bottom line is yes, I still feel vulnerable. I don't have the confidence that my writing is good enough for public scrutiny so I delay putting it on view until I've done everything I can on my own. I probably endure more stress this way (in both my physical health and my writing) but it's how I've always functioned.

  22. Ha ha ha! That is the PERFECT comparison of vulnerability - an annual exam and a full critique. Love it! :-)

  23. I'm not so bothered anymore when I send my critiques to my group because I know their comments will be so helpful.

    Even though I wrote the book to the very best of my ability, I did feel exposed when I sent the manuscript to my agent for the first time and waited to hear back from her. I kept thinking, "what if she hates it or rolls her eyes or regrets requesting the full?" Thankfully she did none of those things. Now I'm feeling vulnerable as I await a decision from the editor who has it right now.

    By the way, I get skin checks too. Love the sun, but not a fan of damage to my skin.

  24. My Grandad also died from melanoma. It's not easy having every freckle inspected sometimes. -- I have a hard time being vulnerable with my writing and other projects. It's not easy to put yourself out there and worry that you'll hear unkind words in return. Laying it all out there for inspection can be rough, but if it's going to help you improve and grow, it's worth it. :)

  25. I might be losing my one fantastic critique partner. Oh well, I know e-mail works, but we've always done things the hard copy way.

    Vulnerable??? I hate that feeling. I usually feel it most when I'm tired and need to go to bed.

  26. Great post. Thanks for the links to Keli's post regarding partners. I find that I need to start looking for one soon.

    I was hoping the writing process itself would be the more nerve wracking because good or bad once you have the words down, they are down. I sure do have a lot still to learn, so thanks for holding my hand and educating me on all those extra's.

  27. Such a great topic Jody!

    It is SO HARD to let our writing go, isn't it? I almost always feel sick when my critique group or agent has a manuscript, even though I know they'll be nice as well as honest. I know my writing never gets really good until other people have had their fingers in it. I'm not brilliant enough to write a novel without help. :)

  28. I am in awe of your professionalism and your refusal to be anything less than the best writer you can be. You're an inspiration.

    It's helpful to read that fiction writers also feel the nakedness of vulnerability. As a memoirist, that baring of your soul is an even bigger factor.

    But since it's all about telling the truest story possible, not being willing to be vulnerable only diminishes the power of what we're trying to create. We need to be brave no matter what.

  29. It is difficult to be vulnerable, but in this respect, it is the only way to improve. Good post!
    Karen :)

  30. Eeek! Another excellent post by Jody Hedlund. :-)
    It's hard for me to "bare all". I don't mind with my critters, they know what I look like, lol. But to send something to a fellow blogger, that's hard for me to do.
    I hope my critters are being hard enough on me. I'll confess to being addicted to their smileys too. :-)

  31. Great post, Jody. And I loved that you shared some of your critique comments. I must say it did my heart good to see that you have the occasional info dump! lol Really, to know that even seasoned writers sometimes do the same things I do, well, it is comforting. So thanks for sharing!

  32. Try writing a memoir. Talk about feeling naked! I can't believe I'm going to ASK people to read what I've written about MYSELF.

  33. Jody, I can't wait to read your book! I know you're nervous, but God got you this far and He's obviously in this! Give those jitters to Him and ENJOY it. On another note, you know what I absolutely can't stand about annual exams? I ALWAYS forget to write my name on the cup before I pee in it!

  34. LOL. Great analogy. But I gotta say, I'd much rather have my book edited then my annual exam, although both are necessary evils:-)

  35. Wow, Jody, this is exactly how I feel as I polish my book. I am scared and I admit it. I hate that feeling that it is about to be exposed and what if it completely stinks. I know in my heart its not true because I write heart-warming stuff, but still, I do feel pretty open, bare, and vulnerable.

    I like this part you shared, although this whole post was so right on!

    *We can’t get better unless we get vulnerable.
    and also:

    *.publication..Everyone will see everything. We have to get used to the scrutiny, because it’ll only grow more intense.

    thank-you!! ~Jenn

  36. Jody, I can't imagine too many other instances of feeling emotionally naked as when we send our work into the world as writers. We are a brave lot, I tell you. We are brave because we know that hiding our words in a cave in our minds will keep them, and a piece of our souls, trapped. To live freely, we must find the courage to let our words go. What you're feeling is totally normal and necessary. It's all as it should be. Just remember, child of God first, and all else will fall in line. Trust! :)

  37. Great article. I admire your courage to share this personal information. I also thank you because now I have the courage to do the same. How do you find the right editor and critique partner? I think that is a great idea and would be a great help.

  38. Jody... you hit the nail on the head. When our books are published we are very vulnerable, exposed to every eye( critical or otherwise).
    I don't think I am putting my manuscript through any examinations right now I am in the self diagnosis mode. But sooner or later it will undergo a complete check up.

  39. Cassandra asked: But now I wonder if I did it [put work under scruntiy] too soon. Is that possible?

    My Answer: I personally think that writers will benefit most from a critique if they've already reached a certain level of skill in their writing ability. That skill comes from writing, practicing, reading good craft books, studying other books. Once we reach a point where we're getting more serious about publication and getting ready to start querying (or think we're ready!), then we really NEED to get the feedback from a freelance editor or a critique group/partner first.

    I do however, think that no matter where a writer is in their writing skill level, we can benefit from feedback (perhaps just not as intense). It gives us a reality check, helps us know where we're at. But the more mature we become in our writing, and the more confident, the better able we're able to sift through that feedback and know what to incorporate in our voice and style.

  40. M.J. Macie asked: How do you find the right editor and critique partner?

    My answer: Check out Keli's blog this week (the links are listed in the post). She did a really great job of giving ideas where to look for critique partners and how to approach someone. As far as editors, check out Rachelle's blog. She has a list in her sidebar of professional freelance editors. I suggest comparing prices, checking with clients for references, and then starting with a trial period or sample chapter to see how you work together.

  41. Nice post about exposing our soft underbelly! Writing is such a personal,intimate act and then we have to show the world. It is a good comparison to the annual exam.

    I had a wonderfully natural doc give me my last annual exam. My 8 yr old twins were with me (boy/girl) and the dr. asked if I wanted them to watch the exam so they could see where they came from. I declined.

  42. I thought I was being paranoid. When you explain it like that...I know my feelings were legitimate...
    And I was only having 2 beta readers!
    I can't imagine what publishing would feel like!

  43. I love the idea of baring your MS so it can be checked for good health! :)

    It's hard, but truly the only way to do it. Good for you, pushing yourself to do better all the time.

    You're my hero! :)

  44. I felt that way when I decided to go under Emily Bryan's red pencil for 500 words. I realised how bad my work was after that, and stripped it to bits.
    The naked fear drove me forward. If only 500 words can do that to me, goodness knows what a critique of 80,000 will be like!

    Ouch is a word I am sure I will use an awful lot. :)

  45. "We can't get better until we get vulnerable."

    That's what I've been learning too, not just about writing but about every area of life where bitter still lurks under sweet.

    Hey, I just learned about ARC's myself.... I had a publisher contact me about a book asking if I'd read the advance copy and blog about it.


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