Critique partners. Writing buddies. Beta readers. There are many names for the people who help you hone your writing.
I like to think of them as my crew, with me in the admirable role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
I have been unbelievably fortunate in this regard. Over the last few years I've assembled a terrific crew with which to exchange work, commiserate, celebrate, and sometimes just goof off. But as I've gotten to know this crew, I've come to appreciate how each one has unique strengths that help offset my own weaknesses and blind spots.
Commander Riker—Number One—executive officer. You need someone who will point out alternatives, air grievances in private, and then help you follow through once you've made up your mind. Someone who understands where you're headed and will do their utmost to help make sure you get there—even if it means helping you crawl through hell. Bonus points if they have cool ways of getting into chairs and leaning on things.
Lt. Commander Data—the android—operations officer. You need someone who will tell you when you're not making any sense. Someone who reminds you that your writing is exploring the human condition, and all the wonders it entails. And if anything is falling flat—humor, emotion, anything—you need someone who will bluntly tell you what's falling flat.
Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge—chief engineer. Everyone needs someone who understands structure, who knows the ins-and-outs of plot, and who can help you identify where the engineering of your story is lacking. Someone whose unique vision gives them insights others don't have. When your plot is about to breach, you want to make sure they can execute a sweet roll.
Dr. Beverly Crusher—chief medical officer. Find someone who knows you well enough to make sure you're taking care of yourself. Who knows when you've gotten too lost in the story and have been neglecting your health. Who will order you to take a break and get some rest, to hydrate, to step away when you need to. Someone who can doctor your query, scan your synopsis, diagnose that nagging plot hole. And, if you ask nicely, they might teach you how to dance.
Counselor Deanna Troi—the empath—ship's counselor. You need someone who is in tune with the emotional content of your story, who will lend an ear when you've fallen out of love with your manuscript and remind you why you loved it in the first place. Someone who will point out what should have been obvious to you—and is, once they mention it. The Counselor Troi's of the world might get grief sometimes, but they are necessary to the wellbeing of the story.
Lieutenant Worf—the warrior—chief of security. Sometimes, what you really need is someone to remind you that you are a badass. Someone who will snap you out of a funk if a critique hits you particularly hard, if a rejection has lowered your spirits. Someone who will remind you the honorable thing is to keep pressing on, that a warrior never gives up. They might take things too seriously, but you love them for it.
Special Guest Star! Guinan—the listener—bartender. Not everyone has a Guinan, but everyone deserves one. We should all be so lucky to have someone who can hone in on the heart of a matter with only a sentence or two, who can intuit what's missing and guide us to realizing it ourselves. Someone with pinpoint vision and incisive candor. If you can find yourself a Guinan, count yourself lucky!
And there we have it. Who is your crew? What role do you fill on others' crews?
And last but not least, I want to thank MY crew. You guys know who you are. And you are awesome.