In a charming 1957 letter addressed to an aspiring children’s book author and illustrator, Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) wrote:
This is a field in which no one can give you pointers but yourself.
To develop an individual style of writing and drawing, always go to yourself for criticism. If you ask advice from too many other people, then you no longer are yourself.
It is certainly important for writers to stay true to who they are. Following the advice of others could result in a disingenuous or formulaic product. There are limits to self-criticism, though. Writers are often blind to their own faults, including the words they use repeatedly or incorrectly, inconsistencies, and weaknesses in the plot that come from a loss of perspective.
Pre-publication criticism, particularly from the most meticulous members of their targeted audience, could help writers discover and address these types of faults, but sometimes it’s hard for writers to listen to it. The lines between constructive and destructive criticism are not always clear, and criticism can discourage writers from publishing their work. An abundance of well-substantiated negative criticism would suggest that a manuscript is not quite ready for submission or publication, but not necessarily that it should be abandoned.
In my post on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s advice to Frances Turnbull, an aspiring writer, I noted how important it is to receive pre-publication criticism. Nevertheless, I am left wondering: did Turnbull ever end up publishing her story?