Don’t get me wrong. Criticism hurts. It probably hurts me more than most people. I have always had a need to seek approval from other people, to feel that people like me.
But I also know that I will never improve as a writer unless I know where I make mistakes. After 40 years in the business, both as a writer and an editor, there’s a strong temptation to believe that I can do it all, that I don’t need other people’s critique. But that’s just my own laziness and fear of criticism talking. I need to hear those things, as painful as they might be.
Right now, I am getting feedback from my beta readers on Tesla’s Ghost, my 21st book. I finished writing the first couple of drafts two months ago and sent it off to three select friends, people that I knew would not only give me a diversity of opinions, but would also be brutally honest with me. And that’s exactly what I got. One said he thought the book was great, but that I needed more description (which made sense, because that’s an area that I fall down in my writing). Another focused on the details of my writing, such as switching viewpoint, archaic versus modern language, and repeating words in paragraphs, all of which I admit I continue to have problems with. The third looked at bigger issues, such as motivation of characters and whether I was telling enough about them as I introduce them.
All of this information is valuable to me, because it usually is stuff that deep down I know I need to fix in my own writing, but I often ignore in hopes that other people won’t notice. But if you really want to get good, you have to admit to yourself that people will notice. And if you are looking for improvement, you will look to fix that stuff.
What’s important is that you are very careful on who you choose for your beta readers. You need someone who will follow through and read your book: that’s a given. You also need someone who knows writing. Finally, and most importantly, you need someone you respect and who is brutally honest. If you can find a couple of these people, they can be of real value to you as you continue to grow as a writer.