Writing Critique Groups
I put myself out there. I took my “baby” and gave copies of it to a writing critique group. To be honest about the experience, I came home crushed. I put the copies with the criticism, edits, and comments aside, licking my wounds and medicating myself with a couple of New Mexico Martinis.
So you have a point of reference, let me tell you I’m writing a fictional memoir in first person, present tense. This seems to be extremely controversial, with some people telling me it’s hard to read and other people telling me they love it. I’ll simply insert a shrug here and promise to discuss that decision in a future post.
The next day, emboldened by sleep, I went back to the critiques. With the exception of one complete “diss,” which is, after all, not a critique at all, it wasn’t all as bad as I remembered.
Sure, there was still the “diss” critique. Then I remembered back to that particular person, continuously calling my protagonist “deaf” when, several times over the first page, I make it completely clear that he is hearing. In fact, the fourth paragraph is a note from the neonatal nurse saying, “Congratulations! You have a normal, healthy baby boy. And he can hear. You should be so happy!” I took the liberty of discounting his demoralizing critique.
However, upon closer inspection of all the others, there was some excellent editorial advice and I figured out a way to deal with it all. I pass it on to you, herewith.
1. When you attend a writer’s critique group, get to know the people. Are any of them published authors? Are they avid readers or do they only read books in their genre? Is their genre anywhere near yours? Do you respect their writing? How do they approach their critiques with other people’s pieces?
2. Don’t bring your work for a critique until you have answered the above questions.
3. Understand this is a critique group. As such, people are going to look for things that are wrong with your piece. I’d love to bring in an excerpt from Steinbeck to see what the group does with it. After all, if they don’t correct something, why are they there?
4. After the group, put the copies they’ve marked up aside. Sleep on your experience a couple of nights. Things you might have been hurt by might begin to make sense. You might take some other comments and realize it’s a difference in style preference. Just keep working. Don’t stop because your feelings are hurt.
5. When you’re done feeling sorry for yourself, start reading the written comments and edits. Look for commonalities. Look for things that make sense to you. I had one critic do some excellent edits on my piece, catching things I didn’t. If several people make the same comment, take that seriously. If only one person comments on something (other than a point of grammar or punctuation), take it with a grain of salt.
6. Don’t stop going. Even comments made to other writers, in other genres, can be useful.
7. Remember that cliche: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The critique group may well prepare you for a future encounter with an agent or an editor.
Me? I’m going back to the group today. I won’t be presenting anything of mine for a bit. But I did take much of the advice I was given, using it to edit and clean up the excerpt they critiqued. Maybe I’ll be ready to go through it again in a couple of weeks!
Have a great Labor Day weekend.