Feedback on your work is important, you already know this. But, it is too easy to dismiss exactly how much this matters for a writer. Honest feedback is the key ingredient to improving in anything you do, but especially in your writing.
C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien knew the value of honest criticism, and sought it out. Once a week, and sometimes more, Lewis and Tolkien met with their friends and colleagues to read their work, hear others read theirs, and share criticism. This informal literary society was known as 'The Inklings,' and met like this for over fifteen years.
It was this group that first heard parts of Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. C.S. Lewis also read his Narnia stories for the first time to this group of friends. It was not always easy for them. In fact, when Lewis first shared The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with Tolkien, he did not get a positive reception. Tolkien thought the work was full of obvious allegories, and he did not like Lewis's mixing of characters and fantastic creatures from so many legends and myths. Lewis was disheartened by this, but he continued to work on it, and share it with his colleagues. In the end, the series became one of the best known, and most-loved, fantasy works of all time.
As a writer, I sympathize with Lewis in the moment he first shared the world of Narnia with the other Inklings. I can imagine how discouraging it must have felt to have such a good friend, who shares your taste, dislike your work. We can sympathize because, and let's be honest here, it's scary to take something that you worked hard on, something you are emotionally attached to, and give it to someone else. Especially when accompanied with the question, "Well, what do you think?" It is a vulnerable place, for an artist it might be the most vulnerable place.
It gets worse. Honest, well-motivated and well-informed criticism of your work is hard to come by. Finding the right person to trust with your unfinished work is daunting. How do you know who to trust? Are they well-read enough to appreciate the difference between good and bad writing? Do they respect the genre you're working in? Can they articulate how something can be improved in a way that you can use?
Yet, there is no other way forward. Your work will not improve in a vacuum, and it certainly will not move anyone if it never sees the light of day. As writers, we must find people we trust to help us grow.
In the last few weeks I sat down separately with two writer friends to hear their thoughts on a short story that I've struggled with for over a year. They both gave me excellent notes and thoughts. Some of them were not positive, some were. Some of them I didn't agree with. But most of them I did, overwhelmingly so. I now have a long list of things to think about, and a few things that I know I must change.
It was not easy to open up this piece of work to these guys, especially because I am not happy with the state it is in. But that is exactly why I did. They saw things I did not see, because I have been looking at it up close for so long. Their thoughts were valuable and helped me considerably, and the story will be better as a result.
Fellow writers, if you do not have someone who you share your work with consistently, I urge you to change that. We cannot create our best work alone. We need other people around us who support us and want us to succeed. We need a community of artists and people who love art supporting us in order to produce good work. It will be scary to seek this out and find it, but I promise, when you do find it, it will be worth it.