Publishing is the most important step to becoming a writer. Writers are people who write things for others, not just for themselves or the benefit of their computer hard drive. If you want to become a writer, you need to publish.
However, besides the actual writing, there's one step in the publishing process that's so essential that if you forget it, you're almost certainly going to have major issues.
What, then, is this important but often overlooked step?
Feedback. Lots of feedback.
The Forgotten Step
I recently worked with an author to publish his third book. He's a pretty amazing guy, a man who has been doing groundbreaking work for over twenty years, someone who is internationally recognized as a top person in his field. He had already written two books about his unique approach.
Unfortunately, the books… well, how can I say it… they were boring, dry, and academic. Nothing like the fascinating stories he told about his actual work.
“Did you get any feedback on your books before you published them?” I asked him one day. “Did you have a critique group or an editor look over them?”
“I had an editor look over them for grammar and spelling mistakes. Is that what you mean?”
“Sort of. Did you ask anyone to give you feedback on the content before publishing.”
“No,” he said simply.
“Well, that would have probably been a good idea.”
Why Every Writer Needs Feedback, and Not Just from an Editor
All writers need feedback. Why?
Because you are the worst judge of your own writing. (Share that on Twitter?)
As you write, you inevitably draw extremely close to your project. You know each character as well as your best friend. You've read the piece so many times, the jokes you wrote in the first draft are no longer funny.
In fact, you become so close to your project that you lose all objectivity. The truth is you can no longer see whether it's “good” or “bad,” interesting or boring, well written or poorly written.
You need outside feedback. Call them your critique partners, beta readers, writing group, or your help-me-because-I-don't-know-what's-wrong-with-my-book club. It doesn't matter. Just get feedback.
How to Find Critique Partners to Workshop Your Stories
If you enrolled in an MFA in Creative Writing, you would find yourself in more writing workshops than you'd ever want. But for everyone else, where can you find a writing group or critique partner? Here are four ideas:
WritersandEditors.com. Pat McKnee has put together a fantastic list of local and regional writing groups, organized by state, at WritersandEditors.com.
Becoming Writer. In December 2014, we started experimenting with developing a writing group of our own, and so far I've been surprised at how close the community has become and the level of improvement of the writers involved. You can find out more about the online writing group here and signup for the waiting list.
Start one of your own. When I didn't find a critique group in my area, I started my own! If you have friends who are writers, reach out and see if they'll meet to critique each other's writing.
Or even email a group of friends, writers or not, and ask them to give you feedback on your pieces. Feedback from non-writers can often be more helpful than feedback from writers.
Publishing is Just the First Step to Becoming a Writer
No writer does it alone. While your fellow writers are a means to getting your writing pieces to publication quality, they're also an end in and of themselves.
Having the support of a community of writers is not only one of the most rewarding parts of being a writer, your community will also help motivate and encourage you to keep writing, especially when things get difficult.
So if you want to get published, if you want to be a writer, find your writing community!
How about you? Have you found a writing group that you trust yet? Let us know in the comments section.
As you prepare to publish, share what you've written with a friend or a fellow writer, asking them for their feedback. When they respond, make sure to remember that “you are the worst judge of your own writing” and don't argue!
Leave a comment after you shared your piece, letting us know that you followed through!