Most humans are naturally wired to avoid pain and stressful experiences. I say most humans because writers are human, but they’re different: they do not avoid pain.
Writers compose a curious part of the human population. They’re prone to share the precious artistry of their souls and ask for constructive criticism in hopes of getting better. As a writer myself, I went this route early in my career and found that the helpful advice I hoped to receive felt more like a literary slap in the face. In one of my first experiences, I tried to smile and jot down notes as a friend proceeded to (as I saw it at the time) rip my heart out and stomp on it.
“How could you do this to me?” I wanted to say. “Isn’t this one of the best things you’ve ever read??”
This experience only temporarily gave the boot to my dreams, however, because I was–and still am–determined to become a great writer (as you might also, or at least a great reader!). Understandably, I was upset with my friend (as well as delusional about the quality of my story), but upon later reflection her words became more clear and helpful than she may have ever intended. I got the feedback I needed to honestly assess my writing.
As my astute colleague Doc so aptly put it, writers who want to self-publish need to work on their craft. The best way to do this is by getting honest feedback. The best way to get honest as well as informed feedback is by utilizing the time of fellow writers. This is because fellow writers have most likely taken classes, had similar experiences, and read helpful books on writing. You just don’t have the time to take every class on novel composition, character development, and literature that’s out there, and neither do you have time to read everything by Anne Lamott, Stephen King, and Robert McKee. You also don’t have time to make all the mistakes novice writers make. Let someone else bump you ahead on the learning curve–believe me, it’ll save you a ton of time and heartache!
If someone is a “serious” writer, they must endure constructive slapping on a regular basis. This is because good writers want to improve their writing and not just get empty praise (though a compelling case can be made for the necessity of praise, no matter how undeserved–I know I need it now and then!). Decide today to find at least one other person who wants greatness as much as you do, because we writers need to stick together.
Note: I’ve credited writers for their helpfulness, and I think it’s also fair to point out the extreme benefits of beta-readers within your editing group. That, however, is a topic for another time.