I haven’t been writing much lately, mostly due to the simple recurrence of Real Life and its inevitable problems in need of a solution. What I have been doing is revising, or at least attempting to, and it’s brought up the thorny problem of finding a reliable circle of people to critique pieces.
We’ve all run into this problem at least once in our writing careers, I’m sure. Every group of readers has its flaws and blind spots, no matter how gamely they might offer to help.
I still remember the hours I spent poring over a friend’s academic manuscript, nervously running through her calendrical calculations in case there was a typo somewhere which would render the whole thing gibberish; I was too much of a codex novice to automatically spot things one of her colleagues would have picked up on with just a glance. I hesitate to offer much more than proofreading for genres I’m unfamiliar with, since adhering to or bucking convention can be such a large part of what makes a story work for its target audience.
Connecting with the reading audience–that holy grail of writing–is fantastic, but fans of your chosen genre might not always be able to tell you why you’ve failed to do so, or where your story’s come up short. Other writers may be more helpful about where your mechanics have gone wrong but lack the love of the style that will let you predict whether or not you’ve got a good horror/fantasy/literary piece. We’ve all, I’m sure, also run into stories that were perfectly crafted and lovingly edited and functioned as they were meant to, but which we just plain didn’t like.
If we’re reading a published piece for pleasure, fine. Turn the page, close the browser, etc. If we’re trying to offer useful suggestions to a friend or colleague, it becomes a trickier game of addressing technical or grammatical flaws without trying to steer the work into a more personally satisfying channel or prune back an authorial voice that grates.