You know those days when EVERYTHING goes wrong? I've had a couple of weeks of those and when that happens, it's very easy to lose focus on one's writing. Between One Young Son going back to school, DH getting sick and ridiculous problems at work (don't even get me started!), my attention is distracted all kinds of ways.
And yet . . . I'm trying to get through the end of the current work in process (Legend People). The problem is with my lack of direction, I've been second guessing where I want to take the story (don't worry, I'm back on track now) and without a contract in hand, it's easy to let it slide a bit. I've continued to put chapters down, but they're sloppy. This is where the old adage, "writing is re-writing" really kicks in. On the one hand, I've got the chapter down. One the other hand, there's too much missing, which will require sharper attention when said attention is available to spare. Fortunately for me, I have a good friend who has been wonderful in pointing out my lack of detail (which is extremely important, particularly for this story). A common trap for authors is assuming the reader can see what's inside our heads. HAH! Like asking your husband to read you mind. Dangerous territory ladies!
Which brings me to the topic of beta readers. These are the people you trust to look at your writing (Beta because YOU are the Alpha reader) to offer you the perspective you're missing. A good beta reader is invaluable. Often, I use my critique groups as my beta readers, but when I'm struggling, like I am right now, my beta reader is actually a step before my critique groups because they can catch the stupid stuff (which doesn't mean I don't still miss some things) before I send it to my critique groups, and let me tell you, my critique partners are TOUGH (this is a good thing).
On the topic of free association (yes, I did tell you my focus isn't very sharp these days), critique groups, while helpful, should not rewrite your stories. They have invaluable input into your writing, which should be embraced, but at the end of the day, you need to remember who is writing this story. The suggestions they offer should be considered just that - suggestions. Again, I have an excellent group of very tough critters. They catch my "brain cramp" mistakes, they correct my errors. They point out character flaws and they check my consistency. They don't try to rewrite my story and sometimes I have the luxury of dismissing comments that they may have forgotten details for. At the end of the day, the story belongs to me, the author, and I will succeed and fail on my own. But don't underestimate the value of the comments you receive from your critters.
And now, before I wander off in some other random direction, I will conclude my ramblings of the day.