It's easier to stay inside of a safe little bubble than it is to put your work out there for others to critique. Handing pages of your manuscript over to someone else to critique is kind of like standing naked in front of people who are going to look at you through a magnifying glass. It's a scary and vulnerable position to be in, but if you have the right people reading your work, it's worth it.
I'll use my experience with writing my first novel to highlight some of the reasons writers should poke their heads out of their bubbles. I learned so many "dos and don'ts" during and after that process, I could probably write a book on the topic.
While I was writing my first draft of my first novel, I primarily wrote it inside of my own little bubble. I loved the feeling of closing my bedroom door and diving into another world, immersing myself in the characters' stories. But I didn't completely stay in my bubble, which was one thing I did right. My gut told me that just maybe someone else should be reading it as I was writing it. This was a person I trusted completely to give me the encouragement I needed and to also tell me if she thought I ever got off track.
I won't ever forget the moment when my trusted reader said, "I don't think those characters would do that." Then she asked me some very important questions, questions that led me to rethink the second half of my novel. The changes I made based on those simple words and questions gave me a much better novel than the one I was originally going to write. That trusted person is my mom and she continues to act as my sounding board as I write each novel. Her feedback and encouragement are invaluable to me.
Once I finished the first draft of my novel (spring of 2012) and did a full edit of it, I knew it wasn't ready to submit to agents or editors. It needed more eyes on it. There were several wonderful writing groups in the Des Moines area, but no intensive critique groups.
So, I branched out and went to an intensive week-long writers' workshop put on by the University of Iowa's summer writing festival. Then that fall, I went to the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference in Denver and participated in critique groups which were led by agents and editors. Both experiences were invaluable. And painful. And emotional. Did I mention painful? There were times I was overwhelmed, and there were plenty of times I doubted myself as a writer. I went through some intense growing pains, but the learning curve I'd gone through was phenomenal.
I took everything I'd learned, tore my book apart and re-wrote it about three more times. I re-wrote the beginning about twenty times. Within the past six months, I finally feel like my first novel is ready to submit to agents.
In the meantime, I was still writing and working on other novels too. The good news is that I took what I learned from my workshops and applied it to the new novels I was writing. Although those books still needed to be edited and parts of them re-written (and re-written again), the first drafts of those novels were free of the major mistakes I'd made when writing my first novel.
Although I loved my experiences in Iowa City and Denver, I knew I needed a critique group closer to home. If I was going to continue to grow as a writer, I needed ongoing feedback. Finally, one year ago, I'd met enough local writers who also wanted an intensive critique experience. We got together and formed The Des Moines Writers' Workshop. I have to say that we have a fantastic critique group. I've read horror stories about critique groups that have gone wrong, so I feel blessed to have the people we have in our group. The other group members continue to help me hone my skills as a writer. Every month, I walk away with ideas that will make my novel and my writing better.
I know some writers who write and publish in a bubble. They say they don't like critique groups or they don't trust other people to read their work. So, they write in a bubble, do a quick edit or two in a bubble, and publish their books. Even authors who write well are selling themselves and their books short if they don't have their manuscripts critiqued before they publish their novels or query agents. If you don't have access to a good critique group, having good, honest beta readers is another great way to get feedback.
I'll say it again: it's very scary to have someone else read your manuscript and give you feedback. But if you have a good group of people looking at it, people who want your novel to succeed, you won't be sorry. The benefits far outweigh the growing pains.