I recently listened to a Louise Penny book about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec. It’s exactly the type of mystery that I love, so I searched out the first book in the series so I could read from the beginning. In the beginning of Still Life, one of the characters, Jane, decides to enter a painting in a juried art exhibit. The detail of the story explains that Jane has been painting for years and has never shown anyone anything she’s painted. Ever.
I was dumbfounded.
How can she expect to improve?
Many years ago I took a studio art class at Boca High. It was one of those evening classes for adults that only cost around $40 for six weeks. The teacher gave us a blank sheet of paper and asked us to draw a face. Most of us, including me, didn’t make use of the entire page. In looking at my drawing in particular, he explained that the eyes aren’t really that close to the top of the head. They are actually more in the center. In five minutes I was already a better artist!
So who’s looking at your work?
Your mother, spouse, children, and students don’t count.
So now what’s your answer?
A critique group is a great place to start. Most writing organizations have lists of critique groups. Search Meetup groups. Find one that meets at a time and place convenient to you and try it out. My first critique group was not a fit for me. I kept at it and have been in several that worked!
Get a professional critique. Most conferences give an opportunity for such a critique at a nominal fee. If you’ve got an entire book, there are professional editors who charge by the page.
Here’s the bottom line. Whatever they say, use it to grow into a better writer.