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 Partner. She 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?