Solicit feedback. I truly love getting feedback on things that I’ve written, whether it’s from from my classmates in grad school or from my agent or editors that I’ve worked with. We, as writers, spend so much time in our own heads that it’s important to make sure that what is on the page is not only what we intended, but something that is understood clearly, and the only way to find that out is to have another person read it.
The hard part, though, is choosing someone to read your work. In school, my professors provided invaluable criticisms, and I can still remember a solution to a plot problem that one of my classmates suggested; that suggested solution remains in Baby Grand. And I could go on and on about my agent, whose insights have made Baby Grand a far better book than it ever would have been otherwise.
Truth be told, though, outside of grad school or the publishing industry, it’s difficult to find qualified readers, readers whose opinions you can trust. I recently attended a meeting of a local writer’s group, and I didn’t feel like the suggestions or criticisms being offered at this particular group were helpful. And I tend not to solicit close friends and family — although many of them have offered (begged) to read Baby Grand — because I don’t feel like the objectivity is there and worry that they will either be not critical enough or too critical, depending on the friend/family member asked.
Criticism is a valuable tool, but it has to come from a reliable source — and what is considered “reliable” may differ from writer to writer. But I do think it’s important to get more than one opinion, have more than one reader, because a character who doesn’t ring true for one might be just fine for another. Your job then, as the writer, is to filter through all the feedback, all the “I liked this, but not this,” in order to get to the truth of your book, which, in the end, only you really know.