On Monday, I went to the podiatrist. I've known for several years that I needed surgery on both my little toes. Without going too deeply into detail, I have curved toes--a genetic thing prevalent in some ethnic groups--that makes wearing shoes, any shoes, VERY UNCOMFORTABLE.
When the doctor came in with my x-rays and pasted them on the light board, she smiled and said, "See anything strange?"
I said, "You mean other than the fact that my toes are C-shaped?"
She placed her pointer on the left pinky toe. "You don't have a joint there. It's fused. How have you been able to wiggle your toe? No wonder you're in pain. Not only do you have the curvature, but your little toe won't move left to right to accomodate shoes."
Silly me. I thought my toe wiggled just fine. It does when my husband winks at me, or when I get really soft cashmere socks for Christmas. At least it felt like a wiggle to me. Apparently, I've been wrong for more than thirty years.
On the way home I wondered how many other imperfections may exist that I just can't see, that I will never know about until another issue brings them to light. Then I realized the same concept applies to my writing. How many issues are there that I just can't see or can't "feel" since I'm so close to the material?
An x-ray shows bone; a good critique group or critique partner can do the same thing for your writing. Sometimes, others have to show you, in black and white, the issues they see. You're used to your impediment, have likely learned to work around it. Their impediments are different from yours. In short, those people with left pinky toe joints really know what wiggling feels like and they can explain it to you if you happen to be pinky-toe impaired.
A good manuscript rarely comes out of a vacuum. You need some input from others who know the market, the genre, and the craft. You might never see your flaw until it's too late and several editors and agents have rejected the manuscript. On the other hand, if you allow a trusted critique group or critique partner to "x-ray" the manuscript, you might catch imperfections you never noticed.
Too many x-rays can be a bad thing--you don't want toxic radiation or to sprout a third arm. But if you've got a legitimate issue--like a break or a bad joint--an x-ray is your best friend. The same goes for your manuscript. Don't pass it out to a hundred people and then try to incorporate all that feedback into your manuscript. Instead choose a trusted partner or group and then listen carefully to what they have to say.
The bottom line: Make sure you "x-ray" your manuscript before you start actively trying to sell it. You might be suprised at what you see.
On a side note, I will be having the surgery on my left pinky toe next month. It's not a big deal but I will be off my feet for a few weeks. I'll still be writing and blogging. After all, what else can I do? (Except shamlessly read steamy historical romances from pain pill to pain pill.) Those of you who know me, know that you should send all "get well soon" wishes in care of my husband. He'll have to put up with ME being immobile for a while. Can you imagine?