When I submitted my first manuscript to a critique group, I didn't know what to expect. I thought it was pretty good. I was shocked by the comments about how much the piece needed improving. Since my aim was to learn to write, I kept my mouth shut and swallowed my amazement. It didn't take me too long to figure out they were right.
Since that first eye opening experience, I have offered to read first manuscripts from many beginning writers. No, beginning isn't the right word. Anyone who actually finishes a manuscript is not a beginning writer.
Why do I continue to be surprised that their reactions are the same as mine were? Why do so many people, having overcome the first big step in writing, finishing a manuscript, think they are done with the process? No one expects to be a top player in any ball game the first time they step onto a court of filed. No one expects to be a good rider their first time on a horse. Everyone, including me, expects to be a great writer the first time out. The next lesson may be the hardest for any writer to learn. There are no perfect first drafts.
For me, the process of learning to take criticism came slowly. I got better at it and my writing improves as a result. I learned to listen to everything that was said to me, even if I didn't understand it yet. I might not be ready to hear everything my critique partners had to say. I had to work at making myself open to the process. "Nice, story, but it needs some story in it." Plotting has always been hard for me. A mystery writer who can't handle plot, either needs to learn how, or find something else to writer about. It was years before I learned to sift through the comments, to accept the ones that applied, save the ones I didn't understand, and reject the ones that were off the wall. I learned that any comment that made me angry was one I had to pay the most attention to.
Time after time we have had new members join a group, stay one session and never come back. I remember one guy whose writing was very funny, a great parody of the hardboiled detective story, but the plot made no sense. He really felt the humor was all he needed. He came so we would tell him how funny he was, and that we couldn’t understand why he had never been published. He could have been top notch if he had stayed and listened to the rest of what we had to say.
To read and comment on someone's work is to give them a gift. It is up to them if they wish to accept that gift.
A writer has to know the intended audience. A writer had to be prepared for an inbox full of rejections. A writer has to learn grammar and spelling, and update that knowledge as language changes. A writer has to know about points of view, character development, story arcs, and on and on. A writer has to practice the craft. I wrote seven novels and 50 or so short stories before I had anything published.
How many writers struggle through their first manuscript and give up because they are not willing to put in the hard work that comes after they have typed THE END?