Work on Your Rhino Skin: Join a Critique Group
The Warm Fuzzy Group. This kind of group is great when you're just starting out, and the thought of reading your work out loud makes you break into a sweat. It's a group of writers who are there to encourage each other, to keep the motivation to write flowing.
It's here that you'll overcome your fear of reading your words to others. Where you begin to think of yourself as a writer.
Every writer can use a group like this. A safe place to share the words you've written. Where you're not worried about critical words. Where novices and professionals can commiserate in the hard work of writing. And most importantly, everyone loves what you write.
The In-Between Group. This is the next logical step. You enjoy the group that loves your words, but you know that your writing can get better. So you find some like-minded writers and get together to critique each other's work. In this group, not everyone will fall in love with your writing. They'll find typos and inconsistencies.
And you'll improve as a writer. Your skin will thicken. You'll learn to graciously listen to others' opinions, even if you strongly disagree. You'll realize that not everyone is enamored with your writing, which is an important milestone.
The Rhino Group. It may sound crazy, but when you're ready for this group, you'll be begging for it. You will welcome the pain of having your precious words called into question. Having to defend your characters, and explain your plot. Being asked to rewrite what you thought was working. Your family will question the sanity of subjecting yourself to this level of criticism, but you will embrace it.
For this is what will help you get published.
And that's probably your goal, right? Wouldn't you rather do the hard work now, rather than suffer through endless agent and editor rejections, wondering what you did wrong? Developing a tough skin that will prepare you for the world of publishing?
So, which group do you choose? I happen to be a member of all three right now, and it's working well. I get lots of encouragement from my warm fuzzy group, and great constructive feedback from my intermediate group. Then I bring my chapters to my rhino group, and get big-picture feedback. All three are important for me.
To find a group, ask at your library, or check to see if a national writing group has a local group in your area. You can also look for groups on sites like Meetup. Check out this post for a great online critique group.
Whichever group you join, make sure your expectations match up with the groups' purpose. For a list of great insights, check out agent Chip MacGregor's post on How to Get the Most Out of a Critique Group.