Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Confidence and Crit Partners

One of my insecurities about writing (I have many) is that people know I’m insecure about my writing! There is a fine line between modesty—knowing your work has shortcomings—and wimpy lack of confidence. I have vacillated between the two, which is likely apparent to those who have read my blog for a while or read my comments on others' blogs.

Here’s the problem it presents: Since the blog-o-sphere has proved to be my pool of potential beta-readers and critique partners who likely sense my insecurity, I tend to wonder if they sugar-coat their responses to my writing. Intellectually, I know I have chosen them because they have integrity and will be honest—and when they offer suggestions on how to improve, I absolutely believe them. But when they say something nice, I always wonder if it’s just to make the criticism more palatable. Which is stupid, because I know some of my writing is pretty good and commendation is often an effective way to motivate further improvement. Even worse, if most of what they say is positive, I wonder if they think I can't handle the truth, and so hold back on pointing out the negative! (For the record: Yes, I can handle the truth!)

Fortunately, I have found a remedy to this! Time! It takes time to build up a trusting relationship with a crit partner or beta reader. True confidence in someone can only come through experience. It’s very difficult starting out with little or no writerly support—especially if you live somewhere remote and don’t have access to a live writing group (even then, it takes time to build trust). I feel very fortunate after several years of this blogging/writing gig, to have found some real gems! It has bolstered my confidence exponentially! You know who you are..THANKS!

This post is part of a series The Insecure Writers Support Groupyes, a blogfest—sponsored by Alex J. Cavanaugh, to lend support to fellow insecure writers (and that's most of us!).  A list of fellow Supporters can be found at the above link--go visit their blogs for more encouragement...


  1. I've been luck to develop a great friendship with several writers, who have proved to be awesome crit partners and beta readers. They aren't afraid to tell me the truth. And I look forward to hear it from them.

  2. I absolutely agree that finding crit partners through blogging, etc. and building trust over time are KEY.

    But when they say something nice, I always wonder if it’s just to make the criticism more palatable.

    But this is where I've learned that the "something nice" is just as important as the critique. It's not just to help the medicine go down better. In fact, it's not even primarily that (although I think people cannot learn when they are hurting, so it's important not to hurt them while delivering a critique). It's important to point out what they are doing right - so they can do more of that. I remember a crit where I kept criticizing the chapter lead ins in chapter-after-chapter, trying to point out how I thought it could be done better. Then in one chapter, the author did it BRILLIANTLY. I pointed to it and said "THIS! This is what I'm talking about." The author came back and specifically said they were grateful to know what they had done right, because he couldn't figure it out just from what he was doing wrong.

    This is my first time in this blog fest, but it is SO COOL! (Great post!)

  3. In learning my own ropes, it took a long time to not just point out the bad in what I saw, but the good as well. People EXPECT a crit to be full of red-line, so when something good does show up, it's a little unsettling to hear. But it does mean the world to some of us.

  4. You're absolutely right. I've been with my writer's group for a few years now, and I really notice how different our critiques have gotten. We are all aware of what each writer wants to do, and we are all more able to help the writer accomplish his or her goal. With time comes understanding for each other and more skills.

  5. Stina, How fortunate to have such readers! We need to know the truth, and we need to know our readers will deliver. I’m curious regarding how long it took you to find them…

    Susan, Especially for new writers, being told what we’re doing right is as important as knowing where we fall short. It’s too easy to crush the confidence of someone starting out. When I started out, receiving a critique as you’ve described in your comment, where I could actually see an instance where I was succeeding was soooo crucial! When offering a critique, until I get to know the writer, I tend to emphasize the positive more than the negative—later on, I can be a little more brutal.

    Anne, I appreciate seeing the red! I want so much to improve, and even if I feel a piece is my best-to-date I know there are issues I simply can’t see. And thanks for all the objective and more-helpful-than-you-know critiques you’ve offered me! :)

    Domey, Unfortunately, there’s no circumventing the time required! Unless we are well acquainted with a writer’s work, we really have no idea of how proficient they may or may not be—and even that is no guarantee. And then there’s simply that level of confidence from knowing each other—knowing what each one is trying to accomplish.
    I wonder if your group is in person or online…and if that makes a difference…

  6. I couldn't agree with you more! It's a true blessing to have crit partners who speak the truth (but hopefully in a kind way). And, THANKS right back at you. :)

  7. Susan! Great to see you! Been missing your face and presence online. Can't wait till I can read more of your work--how's that going?

  8. Right you are. Whether you're looking for betas online or locally, they can be a mixed bag (and some are just plain nuts). But over time, by building trust and getting a feel for each other's writing styles and goals (and by weeding out the rotten eggs), you can end up with a great support team. That comfort level alone can bolster your confidence, and then the red-line edits are just gravy.

  9. I'm frequently discussing critiquing on various blogs. I KNOW that writers need and want honest assessments and opinions, but if I read something I don't like, I'd be afraid to be honest. I'm fully aware that it doesn't do anyone any good to hold back.

    I guess what I'm saying is that I'd make an awful crit partner! :)

  10. If I had a reset button (I wrote a short story about that) I would go back to the last few days of high school (because I really wouldn't want to do all of that again) and redirect myself. I would decide that I DO want to be a writer, and that I would avail myself of the college experience to hone the skills and make the social contacts to aid me in beginning that quest.

    I chose another course which involved three years as a soldier, a number of failed career paths, and twenty years in jail, behind a badge. I am a reclusive curmudgeon, and without my wonderful family would probably be largely alone.

    It would have been interesting to cultivate and pursue the dream a bit earlier in life.

  11. Nate, I’ve been fortunate to not have any readers who fell into the JPN category! Just the same, when I was starting out, it was challenging to decipher which advice to take and which was purely subjective. The experience has really sharpened me.

    Charlie, So are you saying I shouldn’t ask you to be my beta reader, lol? I think I fell into the category you’re in to begin with, but it had a lot to do with my own lack of confidence—how the heck did I know what was good writing and what wasn’t, when I was just learning the ropes myself!

    Michael, I have a lot of those wonderings myself—what if I had pursued it earlier…I likely wouldn’t be 50ish, still feeling as if I’m finding my way (or perhaps I would, lol—seems to be my nature). At least it sounds as if we’ve both made some progress, and I will also attribute a lot of mine to my wonderful family. :)

  12. I could have written this myself...well, the part about wondering if they are being nice to "temper" the criticism. I have the hardest time believing anything good. Maybe it makes us try harder?

  13. Anne's so modest - she's one of my critique partners and her stuff is so polished!
    I guess I was lucky. Or naive! I trusted my three critique partners right away on the first manuscript. Then again, I knew them all through blogging first.

  14. I have yet to find a crit/beta partner who 1. is not my friend (and therefore is not allowed to be honest) 2. a complete stranger I met online and who has no commitment to my manuscript

    Finding a crit/beta partner is HARD! I don't care about negative criticism so long as it is justified. I am only sensitive around people whose opinions matter to me--haha! I honestly don't care what some anonymous person on the internet thinks about my work, but if my best friend criticizes me, I get testy and pissed off about it.

  15. You're insecure about being insecure... I love it! Boy, does that sound like most writers I know. We don't want anyone to know we're not 100% confident in our work.
    I just joined your blog and I'm enjoying myself poking around. Thanks!

  16. Liza, I have to say it amazes me that you feel that way—you’re writing is so beautiful and metaphors to evocative, it’s hard for me to imagine that you would find it deficient in any way. Ah, but that is the way with us, isn’t it…And yes, I think it does make us work all the harder for just the right words.

    Alex, Anne is a peach of a partner! I’ve received some of the best and most comprehensive feedback from her! And of course, if it hadn’t been for blogging, I never would have found her or my other gems.

    Veg Can, Yeah, friends generally do not make good betas (alphas, sometimes, perhaps). Strangers online can be good, but it is a sifting process. I like to know something about a potential reader before I approach them, and reading their blogs (and hopefully some snippet of their work) is very helpful in finding someone compatible. At that point, they don’t seem so much like strangers, but since you don’t have a vested emotional interest in their opinion, it does make it a whole lot easier to take criticism.

    E.R. King, Welcome! If you poke around enough, I’m sure you’ll see just how insecure I am! Please ignore the blathering and insecure writer behind the curtain…

  17. Hmmm, this part: I tend to wonder if they sugar-coat their responses to my writing.

    Yeah. That has never really gone away for me. I absolutely trust my beta and alpha readers, but there is always this little beast inside of me that rarely believes anything nice anybody ever says about my work. I want to kill that beast and throw it to the wolves. I'm trying so hard.

    I just want you to know that I mean everything I ever say about your writing, but I understand if there's a part of you that still wonders. I so get that. We writers are an odd bunch. :)

  18. Michelle, somehow I knew you'd know exactly what I was talking about! It will likely be an issue we will continue to grapple with, but we will always have our few 'trusted', and when they offer their commendation, our hearts will always soar even if self-doubt nips at our toes...

    ...and I really do believe your kind words about my know how it is, lol...

  19. Interesting. I took a creative writing course about six years ago from a quite accomplished Canadian writer, and one of the things she taught us was that if a reader finds something unclear in your writing, then it is unclear. Period. The fault never lies with the reader. (Kind of like "the customer is always right".)

    I found this one hard to swallow... still do... partly because I wanted to assume my reader was being dense -haha-and partly because sometimes I wanted the freedom to be obtuse on purpose. What I took from that class was the flexibility to change things based on reader impressions... and also the strength to stick to my guns when I felt sure I had created what I meant to create. Tough balance though.

    By the way, I never say nice things I don't mean. I'm a big subscriber to that edict about saying nothing. ;)

  20. Lisa, As I mentioned in this post, I have chosen my readers carefully--I've read your blog for quite some time and although I find it frequently amusing, what strikes me most is your raw honesty. I was counting on that when I asked if you'd read for me. You did not disappoint! The feedback you provided is invaluable, and from a very unique point of view. Any second-guessing on my part is my little demon of self-doubt.

    As for "the freedom to be obtuse on purpose" and "the flexibility to change things based on reader impressions" and "the strength to stick to my guns when I felt sure I had created what I meant to create."--Amen to that! I can't state it any better. :)

    PS: I miss getting mischief mail in my inbox...