In my previous post about the road to publication, Nathree commented (on my LJ blog) about how she tends to stop and stare at the roadmap for hours on end and that she’s insecure of where she’s going. I suggested she needed a GPS and thought I’d elaborate a bit on that today.
What is a GPS?
In the analogy of The Road, a GPS is a good critique group and/or feedback on your novel. Bogwitch64 has a great post about getting some harsh feedback. Though it’s not ideal to be run off the road like that, sometimes we need to have someone grab the wheel to keep us from wrecking our manuscripts.
Of course, we often fight having other hands on our wheel. After all, this is our car, and we don’t want someone steering us wrong. However, if we recognize the hands as trying to help us, we’re more likely to allow them to guide us back onto the road.
That’s not to say we should always allow other hands to steer our car. Our hands should be firmly planted on the steering wheel, but we should allow other hands to guide us when we’ve gone astray. This is one reason it’s important to have a GPS you trust.
Where do I get a GPS?
Agent Mary Kole has some great advice about what makes a great critique group/partner on her blog. She even has a Critique Connection where those seeking critique partners can post information and seek out others who are also searching for some GPS guidance (yes, I posted there).
You can put the word out on other sites as well. Verla Kay’s Blue Boards has a section where writers can request critiques and get help with query letters.
Those are only a couple of options. Feel free to link to more in the comments.
How will the GPS guide me?
The important thing to remember is that in order to have a GPS to guide you, you have to be able to be a GPS for someone else. Those just starting out on the road may not be as advanced in the area of being a GPS, but their guidance can still be helpful. Mary says you need varying levels of experience for a GPS to guide efficiently.
We’re all learning, but we all learn at our own pace. Therefore, some GPS capability may be further advanced than our own, but this doesn’t mean we should allow them to steer us completely.
Advice and suggestions are great, but this is still our car. We don’t want to incorporate every turn and direction a GPS might give us. Even in the “real” world, I sometimes ignore my GPS’s advice. If I know the road and where I want to go, I’ll go my own way. The same is true with a GPS on the road to publication. If you know where you are going, ignore the advice your GPS gives you. Keep your hands on the wheel and steer on past. Like my real GPS, your road to publication GPS might say, “recalculating,” and that’s okay.
If you take every bit of advice and incorporate it into your manuscript, it is no longer your manuscript. I’ve made that mistake. It isn’t pretty.
Finding the right GPS
If your GPS is upset when you don’t take the advice, it may be time for a new GPS.
Understand, there are many different GPS available and not every one is right for you. The only way you’ll know is to get one and “test” it. This can be done by exchanging a few pages or a chapter at a time. If you both like what you see, you can take it from there.
There’s also the issue of “out growing” your GPS. Sometimes our journey on the road takes us further away from our current GPS and makes it necessary to seek out new guidance. I think this is why many critique groups/partners don’t last through the years. Since we all move on the road at different paces, we may gravitate more toward those who are at the same place on the road as we are or reach for those further along to learn how to advance.
While I think it’s important to have varied experience levels in a critique group, I’m not sure where the “correct” levels of experience should be. Is it important to have someone just starting out in your group? Should you surround yourself with GPS guidance only from those above or close to your own level?
I think it depends on the individual and their patience.
Sometimes dealing with a less “updated” GPS can be frustrating. They don’t know the new roads and can’t help guide you along them. There is a solution!
With my real GPS, I plug it into the computer and download updates. This keeps the GPS guiding me with the proper information.
While you can’t literally plug yourself into the computer, you can keep yourself updated. Read novels published in your genre(s), study books on writing, read blogs about writing, attend conferences, seek advice from those further along the path. All these things help you learn and grow. Being a good critique partner can also help you grow.
Some of the most profound lessons I’ve learned came from critiquing other people’s work.
Get the car in shape for the journey
No one will get far along the road if their car keeps breaking down. When I look at my car, I don’t see how the paint is chipping on the top. I don’t examine the undercarriage for grime that needs cleaned away, but I have no problem seeing these things on someone else’s car. Once I’ve seen them on another car, I’m much more likely to take a closer look at my own vehicle. I’m able to spot some of the defects, but not all. I need a good tune-up mechanic . . . but that’s fodder for another post.