Better yet, get someone else to read it for you. I was reintroduced to this wonderful practice last month when I attended my second SCBWI-Houston meeting. I was pretty excited about finding a knowledgeable critique group and really wanted to hear what they had to say about my Middle Grade work. I’m used to working for adult audiences, and kids “hear” things very differently. It is important to get the voice, subject matter, and characters just right so that the audience for which the prose is intended appreciates it. If I’m not going to do it right, then I don’t want to bother doing it at all.
I’ve been part of nuturing critique groups and critique groups inhabited by the devil incarnate. Listen first to any group, then run if you feel wholesale bad vibes. Most groups are a mixed bag of people, and chances are that at least one person in the group will give you some valuable insight. One thing you absolutely must be able to to do before sharing your work with others is to be able to listen without being defensive. If you start defending each and every point, then you aren’t going to learn a darn thing. They’re trying to help you. (Well, most of them are. Some, like my long-ago devil, are simply blocked writers shedding their misery all over your manuscript. That’s easy to deal with. Don’t keep the pages that person held and/or scribbled all over. Burn that set with some ritual sage to clarify your creative passages and move on.) I have learned more from good critiques than I got out of an entire How to Write a Novel course. Thank your lucky Muse for these folk and listen with your heart as well as your ears.
The SCBWI group was one of the good groups. Each set of pages was read by a different person, but never by the author. This was a variation on the theme from my last critique group where we read our own work. I liked it. Hearing someone else stumble through what you thought was witty dialog or over a name that is difficult to pronounce is informative. Plus it leaves your hands free to take notes! There was a wide variety of material being critiqued, as well as a wide variety of skills being brought to the table to render critiques. Not everything said applies wholesale to everyone’s work, but you never know which of the points being made strikes a resonating worry you didn’t even know you were harboring over a sentence or wildly diverging plot point you’d snuck in your piece.
Finding a critique group is the hard part, but you can always start by attending a local professional writing organizations meetings. Houston is fortunate to have many active writer’s communities: MWA, West Houston RWA, NW Houston RWA, Houston Bay Area RWA, SCBWI, Houston Writer’s Guild, Houston Ritual SF Breakfast, Bay Area Writers League, Clear Lake Area Writers, Final Twist, Houston Writers Network, Inprint, Scriptwriters, Houston, White Oak Writers, Woodlands Writers Guild, and Writer’s Ink. This is not a comprehensive listing, but a good place to start looking if you live in Houston and write.
Now sit down and get to work!