This morning I got an e-mail from a new writer who was frustrated because she'd allowed a published author to critique the first chapter of the novel she's working on and she didn't like what that individual had to say about her work.
My heart goes out to this writer because it sounds like she's trying too hard. Instead of having some fun and allowing herself to be swept into an exciting new world, she's focusing on a single chapter (which is, I believe, all she has written so far) and what one person thinks of it. I hope this experience doesn't turn her away from writing.
Critique partners, groups, and services have been useful to many writers, but I think my friend has made a mistake. I advised her to finish the manuscript and then ask someone to critique it. I think she ought to prove to herself that she can conceive a plot and produce a finished, polished manuscript before she starts worrying about whether her work is salable.
If your writing gives you joy, you're doing great. Even if you never sell, you'll have known the pleasure of writing. And if you view all of your writing as practice for more and better writing; that is, if you can learn to appreciate and enjoy the process of writing, you'll keep at it--and you won't be able to help getting better at it.
There's a difference between wanting to write and wanting to be a published writer. That's why I always advise new writers to finish their manuscripts before they start worrying about how good their writing is. Finishing a manuscript is a tremendous accomplishment. If you can do that, you just might have a chance of getting published. If you can't do that, you're wasting your time. No matter how many glowing critiques you get on those first few chapters, you're not going to make it as a writer.
It's not enough to write well. Some wildly talented writers lack the talent or the discipline--and it definitely requires both--to tell a good story from start to finish. So I'd advise all of you who are dabbling at novel-writing to stop worrying about whether you're any good and just finish your manuscripts. If you can manage that, I believe you'll find that craft is something you can (and should) learn as you go. Nobody ever reaches perfection; all of the published writers I know are still honing their skills.