What you think you wrote is not what you wrote…

Writing is a solitary activity. It just isn’t possible to have someone else do your writing for you. Sure, you can hire a ghost writer, but then the ghost writer is the actual writer, not you. If YOU are the writer, then you must do that activity all by your lonesome. There is no other way around that.

So, there you are, the solitary writer, sitting at your desk, or in a coffee shop, or library, or bathroom, or kitchen table, or wherever you do your writing. You had an idea that would make a great story, or you dreamed it, or you brainstormed it, or you went through your personal writing process to come up with a story idea. You clearly see the story in your mind’s eye and know exactly what should happen and when, and who your characters are, and what they want. You know exactly how the story should begin in order to hook the reader, and you know exactly how the story should end to give the reader a satisfying experience.

You plotted out your novel if you are a plotter, or if you are a panster (someone who writes by the seat of their pants without a plan) you just started writing. You have written page after page. You have written each scene with care. You are positive that your characters grow and change, and that each scene moves the story forward. There are no lulls, dead spots, or unnecessary sub-plots, or sidelines.

“This is the most amazing novel,” you say as you type THE END. “It’s perfect!” You believe yourself. After all, why would you lie to yourself about your writing? You have doubted your ability in the past, but in this moment, you are a genius.

Immediately, you start to think about finding an agent, and a six-figure contract with a publishing house.

But…

But.

Wait.

Just a moment.

I know this is a difficult thing to ponder.

When you write in isolation, you are writing words on a page based upon the skill level you are currently at. You can’t improve that skill level without input from others. And you can not see your own short comings.

And, because you see the story perfectly in your mind’s eye, your brain doesn’t really interpret what is actually written on the page. It only interprets what you intended to be on the page. Even if you read your own pages, your brain will fill in all the gaps of what is not actually there.

What does that mean?

It means what you think you wrote is not actually what you wrote.

“But I have all the pages right here,” you say. “Four hundred pages. Everything is there. I have read it several times!”

Yeah. Sorry. It’s not all there. I promise you it’s not.

Because we can not see our own limitations, and short comings, and writing faux pas, and our bad dialogue, and vague scene setting, this means that we need other people to read our work.

“I don’t need no stinking people,” you say.

Yeah, you do. You need someone to be gracious enough to read all of your pages in detail with a critical eye. You need someone who writes and knows writing craft. You need someone who can articulate why a particular scene does or does not work on any given page. You need someone who has more skill as a writer than you, so you can learn from them. You need someone who has less skill than you, so you can teach them (one of the best ways to learn a thing is to teach it). You need multiple someones because all of those someones will be good at different things and if you have enough someones they can help you fix all your writing foibles BEFORE you submit your novel to agents and publishing houses who will then reject you with a generic rejection letter and won’t tell you what the issues are in your manuscript because to do that takes a lot of time they don’t have to give to someone they are not contracted with. Yeah, that was a long freakin’ sentence. Take a breath.

Sure, your mom, or your spouse, or your friend can read your story, but are they going to give you an honest reaction? Can they tell you why your character motivations are unclear? Will they know what character motivations are? Or, will they just tell you how fabulous the book is because they don’t want to hurt your feelings? Your mom may be good for your ego, but she’s probably not a good critique partner.

Yes, you need other writer people.

“But where do I find other writing people?” you ask.

You Google writing organizations in your area, or you find an online critique group and join it, or you look for a MeetUp group. If you can find even a tiny pocket of other writers, you can create your own critique group. Or find a writer’s conference and ask them for help.

And then what.

Then you give your new critique partners your pages to read according to the group’s process and ask for honest feedback.

“But—but! My pages are my babies! What if they don’t like what they read? I will be devastated!”

Yeah. That’s normal. Putting your pages out there and asking for feedback can be scary. You will need to grow some thickness to your skin as you sit back silently and listen to other people tell you what needs improvement and why. Remember, this is not personal. These writer people are not criticizing you. They are volunteering hours of their personal time to help you become a better writer. And they are just as terrified to put their pages out there for critique. But all of these someones are doing their best for you.

After some time goes by and you let go of your ego, you will realize that most of their comments are valid. Their ideas really do make your story better. You revise your pages and submit them for critique again. And again, you sit back silently and listen to the commentary. Over time, you become a better writer. You also develop new and lasting friendships. You learn to trust that these writer people who have your best interest at heart, just as you have theirs. You learn craft together. You teach each other. You become better writers together. Eventually you joyfully celebrate the publication of your books together.

It’s scary. It’s time consuming. You will have to swallow your pride. But in the end, what you think you wrote will actually be what you wrote and that is good for everybody.

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