So, I have a confession to make:
I mean, I am able to adopt a humble posture which is mostly sincere, but I think I am actually pretty realistic about my abilities. I can craft decent stories, I have the technical aspects of writing pretty well mastered (which is not to say I am so perfect as to not need proofreading, but I've got my SPAG down), and I know that writing at a professional level is way different than being able to write good fan fiction.
I know I am a better fan fiction writer than most. But let's face it, that's like Dwight Schrute showing off his mad blue belt skillz in a dojo full of kids half his size.
Still, when I finished the first draft of my OF novel, I really thought, "This will need some tuning up, a little revision, I know the ending needs work, but I think this will stand out from the slush."
As I work on the second draft of my novel, I have begun submitting the first few chapters to online workshops. These are critique groups made up of aspiring authors who read and critique other aspiring authors' work, the idea being that you return the favor (by various mechanisms, depending on the group). It's entirely different from getting fan fiction reviews - the assumption is that these are writers who want to be professionally published and you are supposed to tear their shit up (with degrees of brutality that vary according to individual style and the rules of the workshop) to help them achieve that. They will, of course, return the favor.
So, I was prepared for, you know, some harsh critiques. But I honestly expected they'd be mostly positive, with helpful comments about things that could be improved.
I did get some that were pretty positive. But right now the critiques are running about 50/50 "You are (almost) good enough to be published" and "OMFG this sucks donkey balls!"
Okay, nobody actually said "donkey balls." But someone did say this:
To be completely honest, I found the world to be boring, the characters unbelievable, and I'm absolutely positive I wouldn't waste good money on this book if it was published. I wouldn't even read it if it was free.
I found myself having to resist all the impulses I thought I was totally too sensible and thick-skinned to feel: "Well, fuck you, what do you know?" "You're just tearing me down because I wrote a harsh critique of your piece."
(Don't worry, I never responded to anyone in that manner, and I was not tempted to do so. But I can't deny that thoughts like that oozed out of the suppurating bruises in my ego.)
Yeah, so, after picking up the shattered pieces of my authorial self-esteem, and trying to put it back together, I have been reading and rereading the harshest critiques. I'll have a lot more to say about critique groups in general once I have more experience with them - as you'd expect, participants' skill at critiquing varies as widely as their skill at writing, but these are mostly at least adequate if not pretty darn good writers.
The conclusion I have (mostly) come to, although I am still unsure (and so completely thrown by the wide-ranging reactions that I no longer have any faith in my own judgment at all) is that, at the very least, my first chapter completely fails and will likely garner me nothing but form-letter rejections. I am not sure if this means that I need to completely rewrite the first chapter, or completely rewrite the whole damn book.