Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Knowing When You're Ready
Hi, it’s Myra here. While I was browsing my Seekerville buds’ earlier posts trying to decide what to blog about today, I happened upon Patricia’s comment on Janet’s post yesterday. Patricia asks: “How does a relative newbie know when she's ready to submit? . . . At some point, don't you have to just get out there?”
We’ve all been there, wondering if our work is ready for editorial scrutiny (and hopefully a sale). I remember when I first decided to get serious about writing . . . and learned how much I didn’t know!
Brief history here: That was back in 1983, after I’d enrolled in the Writing for Children and Teenagers course at The Institute of Children’s Literature. I sent in my first lesson feeling super-confident. My story was great! My instructor was about to discover the next Judy Blume!
Then I got the assignment back and found out I’d done just about everything wrong. The biggest mistake? Multiple POV, with the mother as the main character (this was supposed to be a children’s story). Then there was the clichéd plot: new kid in town trying to fit in at her new school. The list went on and on.
But then I applied those lessons. I learned. I practiced. I improved. Pretty soon I realized my instructor was editing my stories with a lot more blue ink (which she used to mark the good stuff) than red ink (for the weak areas). And before the end of the course I had sold not one but two of my course assignments.
The short answer, Patricia (and anyone else grappling with this question), is that I don’t think we are the best judges of when our work is ready for prime time. Have you taken any writing courses? Do you have a critique group? Have you entered any contests yet? If so, what kinds of responses are you getting?
If not, investigate opportunities to get feedback on your work. Join professional organizations. ACFW. RWA. Connect with a strong critique partner. Enter a few contests--not necessarily with the expectation of winning or placing, but of getting two or three in-depth critiques from published or nearly published authors. Yes, judges’ opinions vary (often widely!), but wherever you see consistency, you can feel fairly confident the critiques are on target. And if even one judge’s opinion confirms a nagging suspicion you just didn’t want to admit to yourself, take it seriously.
Next, tear apart those critiques. Make charts of the strengths and weaknesses your judges noted. See what stands out. Then study books on craft that address your weaknesses, while you continue to practice and build on your strengths.
Eventually those critiques will start coming back with more “blue” than “red.” Your strengths will clearly outweigh the weak areas. But don’t expect to ever feel 100% ready, because a real writer never stops learning and growing. No matter how many times I rewrite and revise, I can always find something I can improve upon.
Still . . . with time, and practice, and perseverance . . . you’ll know. You’ll sense deep inside yourself when it’s time to kiss that “baby” goodbye and send it on its way to a (hopefully receptive) editor’s or agent’s desk.
And then start waiting and wondering all over again!