If you’re just writing in your journal for your own fulfillment and you don’t care about anyone else’s opinion of it, congratulations: You’re in a happy place. On the other hand, if you want other people to read and enjoy your writing, you’ll want to get some opinions on it.
Here’s the problem: Your target audience may know whether they like something, but they may not know exactly why, or what you could do to make it more likeable.
We’ve already seen that people who are very good at writing don’t necessarily know how to tell other people to be good at it. This is obviously even truer for the average reader. A further complicating factor is that being asked for advice puts people into a different frame of mind. If you give a person something to read and they know they’re going to be asked for advice, they will read it with a forced-critical mindset that almost certainly won’t give you useful information. If they read it just for fun and you ask them for their opinion after, you’re giving them a pop quiz and they’ll do what people do on pop quizzes: They’ll bullshit.
What I’m saying is Don’t ask your friends. Not unless you have good reason to believe your friends will be good sources of usable advice. Is your friend someone like Stephen King or Celeste Ng? Ask away if they don’t mind, especially if you’re writing in a similar vein. Is your friend someone who took a writing course once and has strong opinions on which books are good and which are bad? Hmmmm, maybe don’t ask.
Oh, and if you have a friend who dispenses unsolicited advice? Tells you how to write better when you didn’t ask them? Corrects your grammar spontaneously? I’m not saying you should kill them and hide their body, but I am saying you should ask them for exactly as much advice as you would if you had killed them and hid their body. In fact, avoid them. Why do you even spend time near them? Ugh.
So who do you ask?
Ask people who know, obviously. People with a good track record of helping writers write better and get their stuff published. (Be aware that “good” and “publishable” are separate questions. There are many enjoyable books that won’t find enough of a market to get picked up by a publisher – maybe the topic is crowded or too well covered, maybe it doesn’t fit into a promotable genre, maybe the target audience doesn’t buy books. And there are many dreadful and stupid articles that get published and sometimes the authors even get paid for them.)
Ask people whose advice is worth paying for. People who get paid for advice. Which means people who will make you pay for their advice.
Sorry! It’s true. Free advice is usually worth what you pay for it… or less. (If it makes your writing worse, it’s definitely worth less than no advice at all.) There are exceptions, of course, but the expert giving you advice will always be getting something out of giving it to you, even if it’s just a warm feeling of helping a friend. More often it’s self-promotion or similar business value.
In short, hire an editor. And don’t expect freebies. Editors make money from their skilled judgment, just as lawyers do. Do you expect free advice from a lawyer? One guy (this is a joke) stopped a lawyer on the street and said “What’s your rate for answering quick questions?” The lawyer said “Five hundred dollars for three questions.” The guy said, “That’s kind of a lot, isn’t it?” The lawyer said, “Yes, it is. What’s your third question?” Editors are kinder and cheaper but they earn their living similarly.
Don’t just hire the first editor you’ve heard of, though. They don’t all cover the same areas and they don’t all have the same experience or charge the same rates. Ask around and make sure you get the right person. You can start by looking in the directories of Editors Canada and ACES.
You can also take a course from someone who has a good track record of teaching people how to write better. This is a separate skill from editing! An editor can fix the text. A teacher has to fix the writer. Writers wriggle much more than text does.