Since I started writing again I've been going to retreats and conferences in an attempt to push myself to take my writing to the next level. Once I started this process I couldn't stop. So what has me so addicted to improvement? Isn't it good enough to just have the natural talent of a writer? I wish it were that easy. When I was in high school I thought it would be that easy. I thought I'd write a book and get it published. Anyone who has finished a book and has tried getting and agent or jumped that hurdle altogether and went straight for the publisher knows just how hard that really is. There is no easy road to getting published and there is always room for improvement.
It wasn't until I attended my first writer's retreat that I realized just how much room for improvement there was in my own writing. The only people who had read my book were friends who praised it until I blushed. I figured it must be good if my friends liked it. I can see you flinch even without a webcam. If you didn't, you probably have the same wonderful kind of friends I do and you may not have learned the true meaning of critique yet. Criticism even in it's finest form--constructive criticism--is still a very harsh and painful process. But it's a necessary process. Without it your writing will not improve. If you constantly hear how good your book is and no one ever tells you how you could improve it, it will never be the best it can be. As wonderful as those praising friends are, you need different friends who will tell you exactly what's wrong with your book, using constructive criticism but without the gloves on.
Think of your writing like the construction of a good sword, it must be heated, folded, and pounded before it can withstand the rigor of battle. Becoming published is like battle and without a strong manuscript, your weapon will crumble and you will be defeated. So heat up the forge and invite the criticism!
Check out this great article on a similar subject by Kate Monahan of Writer's Digest: http://tinyurl.com/yl5ejlz