Ron wrote about petting zoo vs. lion's dens critiques on Wednesday. (By the way, nice figurative language, Ron--I think you have a future there.) Of course part of being a writer is learning to accept critique. (Though as someone who tends to whinge and wail in the face of editorial letters, I should add that we don't have to accept them well.) But I think part, too, is figuring out what kind of critique you need when. When I'm just starting out, my ideas are as fragile as my ego--I've lost a book idea by having someone spin it out in a direction I didn't want to go, and been stopped for too long by dismissive things said about my first pages. I seem to need to get the book to a place where it can take wing on its own before I can have it ripped apart too much, otherwise it pretty much plummets to the ground with a pathetic splat.
My friend Laura and I tend to read all of each other's stuff, and we work well together both because we have a similar aesthetic and because we seem to need the same thing at the same time in the process. I send her chapters, and she tells me how devastatingly awesome they are, and how she can barely see from the beams of brilliance coming from them, and then points out a couple teeny tiny things I might tweak but none of that should take away from the overall awesomeness and beaming brilliance that is my first draft. When I finish it, then she tells me what she really thinks. And I listen, and I revise, and then we do it all again the next book. It might be co-dependent, but, like so much co-dependency, it works for us.
Your job, after all, is to find what your book wants to be in whatever way works for you. For me, that's writing like crazy through a draft, charged with an utterly deluded sense of the draft's utter perfection. Then I give it to my perceptive, exacting lions, and take the tattered, bloody thing that emerges, whinge and wail for a while, and then try to make it into a book that's actually good. It might be different for you--what's important is that you know when in the process to give your words to the petting zoo, safari park, exotic animal auction, or shark feeding frenzy. And when it's time to leave the metaphors to Ron.