In space, according to Ridley Scott, no one can hear you scream. For you non-science types, that’s because outer space is a near vacuum and can’t carry sound. For others: well, duh.
In most cases, there’s a similar vacuum around the spaces, people and events we create through writing. If your protagonist is attacked by gnarly gnomes in the forest, but no one other than you reads it, does he make a sound? No. He might be doing a lot of howling in your head, but sans reader the poor fellow will die alone and unmourned. It’s bad for him, but worse for you. If no one can hear you, how can they offer help?
One route is to go to school. I picked up my MFA through Southern New Hampshire University, which means I’ve essentially paid a pro to tell me where my writing is weak and what I could do to improve it. I also had (still do!) access to a peerage of writing students, and we swap work back and forth. The MFA route is effective, but expensive.
A far cheaper option is to let your spouse or mom read whatever you scratch out. However, they probably love you too much to tell you the whole truth. If they are 100 percent honest, it may make for awkward post-critique dinner-table talk.
Your alternative, then, is to join a good writing group. That can be harder than you know because (a) you don’t run into them every day and (b) writers are often strange ducks. (You might want their feedback, but you may not want them to have your phone number.)
Thankfully, there’s the Internet, the perfect place for sharing your soul without showing your face. There are several good online writing groups out there in the ether. I am a member of Critters.org, formerly a sci-fi/fantasy group, which expanded its workshops to include all subgenre and medium. The group is free. All it takes is doing one critique a week to keep your membership in good standing, which means you can send your own work to the queue. The last two stories I submitted netted seven or eight critiques, each of which I found helpful. I’m also a member of the OnlineWritingWorkshop, which is maybe a little more professional but not free.
There are other online groups, of course. The important thing is to get your work in front of some readers who will really tear into it and help you make it better. Here are some possibilities to explore.
OnlineWritingWorkshop.com – $
LitReactor.com – $