There's been a lot of talk on the blogosphere about trust recently--and while Robyn talked about the importance of trust in yourself, Michelle talked about trusting advice, and Natalie talked about NOT trusting the rules, there's one issue about trust that kept wiggling around my mind.
The Trust of Readers.
Quit thinking like a writer for a sec--think like a reader. When you pick up a published book, you trust that author to an extent. You trust that the author is a good writer (at least good enough to be published). You trust that the author will deliver a well written book--both grammatically, stylistically, and story-wise. You trust that the book is worth your time--and (if you bought it) your money. You wouldn't shell out $15-$25 to a stranger for no good reason, would you? No--you trust that the story on those printed pages is worth it.
Now think about the last time you critiqued a friend's work.
Did you have that same trust?
I'm betting you didn't--because you weren't thinking like a reader, you were thinking like a critiquer. You didn't have the agent, editor, publishing house, and media hype to build up your trust in the work--you just had an unpublished document by a friend who freely admits (by asking for a critique) that she DOESN'T deserve your trust.
Did you rip it to shreds?
And, more importantly...should you have?
In the past few years, I've done every kind of critique there is. I've gotten beta reads from published and unpublished writers, I've paid for critiques from former editors, I've signed up for online critiques from agents and editors, I've done the first line/first page/pitch contests that riddle the kidlitosphere. I've been in three different critique groups, worked online and in real life with other writers, gone to two conferences, read writing books, and spent more money that I think I could stomach if I actually tabulated it.
Have they helped?
To some extent.
And now I can tell the difference. When I submit my work to people I've worked with before or know to some extent (either online or irl), I think I've built up a trust relationship with those individuals--moreso than with a stranger. They know I can write because they've seen me write before and are aware of my abilities. I'd even argue that you, as a reader of my blog, are aware of my abilities to a greater extent than the Internet population at large. You trust in my abilities to write a blog post, at least, and if you've been around here for awhile, you probably have a sense of my tone and style and ability.
But when I submit to online anonymous contests or do a swap with someone I'm not really close to, that trust isn't there. They don't trust that I can write--and the critique is affected by it.
Natalie's post on rules really made me think of this. If a critiquer is reading a portion of your writing and doesn't have the inherent trust of most readers, they'll nitpick the rules. Does it really matter if one sentence is passive? No. Does it really make much of a difference if you chose a different word to describe something? Not really.
I once entered an online anonymous first page contest. At least two-thirds of the commenters talked about my main character's name--NOT the story itself. Which. Drove. Me. Crazy. How am I supposed to learn something new when most of the comments are so banal?
Now, on the flip side, it's just as important not to get a critiquer who's too trusting of you. Like, say, my mother. She thinks everything I write is gold, and is, in this case, absolutely useless to my revisions.
This is why it's important to be selective about who you allow to read an unpublished draft of your work, no matter how polished it is. You need a critiquer who has Reader-Trust in you--someone who believes in your ability. At the same time, you need a critiquer who is a fellow writer, who can help with the actual writing of the story.
You have the right to be selective! Go out and find people who both trust in your ability and who help you achieve your ability!