Trade of Terror

I hope this scares me into action.

These were the words on my mind as I emailed the first draft of my first novel, raw and tender, to my writer friend for its very first critique.

I never actually had the initiative to do this myself. My friend asked to read the draft, eleven months after it was first written. Without her prompt, I’d never have known my novel like I do now—through another’s eyes.

We’re a pair of NaNoWriMo buddies, and we traded novels for mutual critiques. She read through mine lickety-split, and the actual critique wasn’t nearly so scary as I thought it would be. Perhaps this was because my writer friend is so friendly. Perhaps it was also because those eleven months distanced me from my work. In any case, this critique breathed new life into my draft, and helped me see it anew, with hope.

I was not able to return her favor as soon as I would have liked, since I was buried under a pile of textbooks. Just recently I’ve escaped from those, and have been reading through her novel, taking the place of critiquer. And just recently, I’ve realized that this isn’t just a favor for a friend. It’s an eye-opener for me as well.

Suddenly I’m experiencing a novel, written in the same month as my own, yet completely new. As I read I know exactly what I like, exactly what I dislike, exactly what I want out of the story. I have become the Reader, something I could never truly be with my own work. And suddenly, I have a mountain of new insight that I can take back and apply to my own novel.

Trading work is essential for a writer, not only to gather new insights on how another person sees your work, but to understand yourself as Reader and Editor. It may seem like a trade of terror at first, but isn’t that why you’re writing? You like to be terrified?

Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

The most terrifying part of the trade is (like most authors’ tasks) taking the initiative to do it. I had a writer buddy who helped me along, and I hope you have one too. If you don’t, find someone! There are bazillions of writers out there like you.

Please, take the initiative. You will learn so much about yourself.

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