Wait, what? Of course, you need to trust your friends and family! They would not be your friends unless they were trustworthy, and your family is – well, you’re related to them, right? Let’s assume your friends and family are utterly trustworthy, so why not trust them?
The title should read, Don’t Trust Your Friends and Family to be Honest About Your Writing. But that would be a very long title. The thing is your friends and family have watched you labor over this book. They’ve seen your anxiety as you faced writer’s block. They’ve seen the days you never left the room, pounding the keyboard like a mad person. Some have even seen you sneak out of the bed at night when the muse has grabbed your brain and won’t let go. They are very aware this book is your baby!
It’s taken you months or years to get up the courage to share your baby with them, what are they going to say? Of course, they are going to say they love it, it’s perfect! If they don’t you may want to reconsider your relationships.
The first book I let my family read was perfect. They told me so. And my daughter gave me a gift membership to the Unnamed Writer’s group for my fiftieth birthday. No, really, that was the name of the group at the time. So, with fear and trembling I walked into my first meeting in March. It was at a community center, the smell of chlorine from the pool hit my nose as I entered the building. The pubescent girl at the front desk took one look at my notebook and pen and pointed at the staircase. I was practically vibrating with nerves as I climbed up, found the room, and peeked in.
The room had rectangular tables with chairs around them and people were scattered about visiting or sitting or welcoming others. I was given a nametag and went to find a seat. Of course, I picked an empty table so as not to have to make awkward small talk with a stranger.
Soon a middle-aged man in sweatpants sat down next to me. “Hi, he said, I’m Matt.” After introductions he asked the key writer question. I’m sure you’ve heard this question from several people already. “What do you write?”
I hesitantly disclosed that I had just finished my first young adult fiction and wanted to start sending it out to publishers.
“Who has read it besides your friends and family?” he sagely asked.
“No one.” I meekly admitted.
“You need to be in a critique group,” he said. It was more of a command then a suggestion. He went on to share about the critique groups they had. Matt led one called a “Finished Group.” It was for people with completed manuscripts. They read one book a month to look for flow, story consistency, character growth, voice, point of view, etc. It sounded wonderful and he said there was room for me to join.
I signed up and faithfully read everyone else’s books, one each month. Being new to the group my book was last on the list. I knew when they got to my book, they’d tell me it was perfect, and I’d be on my way to the best seller list.
As you might assume by now, this is not what happened. Several important things came from that experience. First, I learned how important it is to develop a thick skin as a writer. Second, I learned that my manuscript was FAR from perfect.
Six of us sat in a circle at the community center. When introducing the group, Matt told us the rules. We were always supposed to say something positive about the work first. Then the person whose book was being critiqued was supposed to keep quiet and listen. They were to take all the feedback with a grain of salt. If one person said something you might choose to ignore it. If several people had the same feedback, it might be important to listen to that feedback. Ultimately the author decides what they chose to incorporate from the feedback.
It was my turn. After some positive comments, several people, all of them actually, said I was head hopping in perspective in the book which made reading it very confusing. I didn’t really even know what “perspective” was at that point. But apparently it is important to pick a perspective before you start to write. The perspective is whose eyes you are seeing the story through. For a young author, sticking with one perspective is probably best. I had chosen four. There were four characters in my book, and I was jumping in and out of their heads like a rabbit on meth.
Matt explained that when it comes to perspective switching it is best to either do the whole book from one perspective, or switch by chapter. Talented writers can switch by scene breaks but it can be confusing to switch too often, and I was not yet a talented writer. I was a baby writer. So, I decided to switch by chapter. To re-write the entire book to one perspective felt too overwhelming at that time.
My second problem, they pointed out, was that there was no conflict in the story. A story without conflict is – boring. Yikes, that may have hurt. Not only was my book not perfect, it was boring! Not the word you want to hear about your baby. Picture someone leaning over the stroller and instead of saying, “Oh, what a perfect baby you have.” They wrinkle their nose and say, “Oh, I’m sorry your baby is so plain and uninteresting, better luck next time.”
Thankfully Matt suggested we take our feedback and put it away for a month and then revisit it. I took my wounded pride home and put it in a drawer so I could drown my sorrows. I’m not much of a drinker really, more of an emotional eater so I probably consumed copious amounts of chocolate.
When I did pull the manuscript out again, I got to work adding conflict, and changing the perspective to one per chapter. It was a piece of cake. No, my mistake, I was eating a piece of cake while I basically rewrote that baby SIXTEEN times! It was hard work but the end result was much better than what I started with. In fact, I re-read the book recently. It’s called, The Cage and I actually enjoyed it!
An interesting side note: When I got home from the critique meeting and told my husband what the group members said about my book being boring and head hoppy, his reaction was not outrage, as I had suspected. He stoically said, “Yeah, I noticed that.”
Don’t trust your friends and family. They are liars.
Jacci Turner lives with her husband in Nevada’s high desert. They spend their mornings hiking through the sagebrush with their dog, Rosie. Jacci loves chocolate, babies, and coffee with friends. She’s worn many hats in her lifetime: therapist, school counselor, campus minister, and mom. Her favorite hats are her writer and grandmother hats, which come in wild colors and don’t fit too tightly. Connect with Jacci on social media, visit her website at jacciturner.com, and check out her author page on Amazon for more.