Show Your Friends . . . Or Should You?

NaNoWriMo (the National Novel Writing Month) started on Tuesday. As we write (whether we are participating in NaNoWriMo or not), eventually we have to think about revisions . . . and yes, about obtaining good critique.

Now many of us will turn to our trusted friends for this. After all, they love us, and we trust that they wouldn’t let us go out and make a fool of ourselves, right?

I read something yesterday that made me think. Granted, what I read was from a book that was published in the 80s, and things change. But I wonder if this advice is still relevant. After all, writers are still writers, and we are all still plagued with the same insecurities.

The advice is this: “Never show a story to a friend unless she’s a fiction editor–and I’m not sure about that” (Bernstein 18).

To quote the book:

Consider: the writer finishes a short story. It’s not the first story she’s written and she knows it’s good. Does she submit it? She does not. She shows it to her best friend. Forget whether her best friend is a fair judge of short stories . . .

So the friend says she loved the story . . . and at the same time . . . points out that she thinks the beginning can be improved. The writer is surprised but grateful. She had thought the beginning was the best part, but O.K., she was wrong: the beginning has to be changed.

Now here is a writer who knows what she is doing and here is a friend who does not–and the writer changes the beginning of the story . . .

The story is changed and it goes out to McCall’s. No it doesn’t; of course not. It goes to the writer’s other best friend and the procedure is repeated . . .

Deep down, writers possibly know this–know that they are the best judges–but are so gripped by uncertainties and so in need of affirmation that they simply cannot accept the story as a completed creative work all by themselves. They travel the seemingly safe but actually dangerous road of showing it around, and end up totally confused and no longer certain of their own feelings. The story has been scissored, pasted, and agonized over, and there is no real sense of improvement (Bernstein 17-18).

Now this reminds me of me. In my writing journey I had to learn two very important lessons.

1. I had to be humble enough to let others see my story and accept critique of it.

To that end, I did show it around and was blessed with friends who really did give me an honest opinion of it. In fact, my sister, who is not a reader, is one of my best critics because she can tell me when my work gets confusing to the general audience. She does not know about style, form, or any of that, but she does know when something doesn’t seem *write* to her (pun, ha!).

2. The second lesson I had to learn is that I don’t need to show my work around.

I’m still trying to make sense of how the two lessons go together. When I was writing my YA book that’s coming out sometime this month *shameless plug* I tried to get different people to look at it. I tried all my faithful critics, but for one reason or another they couldn’t get to it (it was around Christmas time). So to keep myself on my personal schedule, I did a final revision and submitted it to the publisher. This is my first traditionally published book.

So I am left with a paradox. A writer should have the humility to let people critique her work, but should also not need anyone to critique her work. I’m not sure how the two fit together.

What do you think? Should you show your story around? If so, to whom? And what point can you trust yourself to be an accurate judge of your own work?

You think about that as you keep writing. But take the time to drop a comment and leave your opinion.


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