Thursday, February 2, 2012

Writing Tip---Critique Groups

I just have to tell you that last night, for the first time in a decade, I slept in a paper-free bedroom. It took me exactly one month, but I purged all the papers from my room and it feels good. Thank you for bearing with me through that!

Today I'd like to talk to you about critique groups. As I've taught at different conferences over the years and spoken about critique groups, I inevitably get at least one person who says, "oh I don't need that," and "I could never let someone else read my writing before it's published."

And every time I hear it I want to shake my head because they are missing out on something that is incredibly helpful to a writer.

Critique groups can give your writing a polish that it wouldn't have otherwise. For example, I met with my critique group last Tuesday and we were critiquing chapters of mine that I'd already edited. I thought I was going to cruise through, but then one of the group pointed out a spot where the heroine's reaction was totally out of character, and another pointed out where the technology wasn't correct and would need to be changed. Was it make or break it for my book? No. But readers and editors and agents are looking for polished books without those sorts of minor mistakes and smooth writing. And that's the goal I'm shooting for. I want my writing to be the best it can be and I know that my critique group is helping me with that.

It took me a while to find a group, but I am so glad I never gave up looking. Making the right fit is important, because you want to have other writers who are about at the same level as you or a little higher, so you can all help each other and get the most out of it. You also want to make sure that you are ready for a good critique. My chapters have been shredded before,(quite recently, actually!) but as I sit there looking at all the red marks and notes in the margin, I know that it's going to make it a stronger story and I'm grateful for people who are willing to read my manuscript and help me make it better.

(I also am glad to have people who get me as a person and a writer, who know where I'm going with the story and characters and can help me get where I want to be. Plus, the group I'm with has a wicked sense of humor and we end up laughing through most of the evening.)

So, while I know some don't feel critique groups are needed or worth it, for me, they are worth their weight in gold. Editing mistakes, plot holes, and mischaracterization all come out in the pre-submit period, so that when you are ready to submit, you know it's really ready, if you get my drift. Your writing has that extra pair of eyes that have gone over it and you have the benefit of knowing you have fixed everything you could and done your best with the help of great critiques.

(And just to clarify, I'm not saying you have to have a traditional critique group that meets every week or anything. There are plenty of authors I know that do online critique groups.)

What do you think of critique groups? Do you have one? Why or why not?


Heather said...

I do not have a critique group, I am so new to writing that I have not even finished my first draft of my first novel, BUT I hope to find one! :) I think I will do best with a strong input from other writers I respect. I'm glad you were able to post about this and I hope I find a great situation, similar to yours.

Janice Sperry said...

I had a critique group for a few months before it fell apart. It was great while it lasted. How do you find writers that are close to the same level as you, live nearby, have the same commitment level, really want your opinion, and are willing to give a useful critique?

Melanie Goldmund said...

I hear so much about how great critique groups can be, and each time, I just sigh with envy. I was part of an online group for a while several years ago, but the main person left and then it all fell apart. I don't remember that it was very helpful for me, either; it seemed like I did all the critiquing and got very little in return.

Debra Erfert said...

I am a member of an on-line critique group. We meet "together" yet I've never met any of the other ladies in person before. A few years ago I met Kerry Blair and she was/is a member of American Night Writers Association. This association of LDS women was started in Arizona by Marsha Ward, but has since gone global. Since the bulk of the women live either in the Phoenix area, or in Utah, I had to go the cyber route with my chapter. And you are so very correct, Julie. Having someone look over your manuscript is essential--I just don't like dumping a whole 85K novel on a poor unsuspecting newbie writer unless they ask for it. (Thanks Mel!) I do utilize my group for critiquing synopsis and cover letters, and even will trade manuscripts for critiquing when necessary. And of course they're great for asking questions, stupid or otherwise. Recently we've had great discussions on how Regency ladies unbuttoned their dresses if they weren't wealthy enough for their own abigail's.

Gina said...

I just joined my first one.

And I am scared.

I know I need the feedback, and I think I am ready for it... but... what if I'm completely useless and nobody wants to help me anymore? And what if everybody looks at my genre/story idea/whatever and is like, "Uh... that's dumb. I'm not reading that."

And then I won't get any help AND I will feel stupid.

So... yeah. That's where I am with critique groups as of right now.

Unknown said...

I LOVE my critique group! Now that I'm going back through my finished project to edit it, I can see how much better my writing is because of the suggestions of my critique partners. Not only that, but critiquing and editing someone else's work makes me look a closer look at my own.
But even after 9 months with my group (and there are only 3 of us), I'm still nervous every time I read my stuff to them. I drag my feet getting there, but when I leave I'm always revved up to write some more.

Jill Campbell said...

Was in a critique group a million years ago and loved it. Maybe I'd write more, okay maybe I'd write PERIOD if I had a group. Any of you first commentors in the Salt Lake area? Anybody want to start a group?

Sarah Tokeley said...

I don't have a critique group yet, but you can bet when the time comes that I'll be looking for one. I'm not deluded enough to think I can do this on my own without any help. It's so much easier to see something in someone else's work that you miss in your own.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Heather, I'm so glad you found us and congratulations for starting on your novel. So many people say they'll do is someday and you've just jumped in. It's so exciting!

Janice, honestly it took me a long time of looking to find the right fit. I think it's a hit and miss thing for sure.

Melanie, I've been there and done that. No fun. I hope you don't give up looking.

Debra, I'm so glad you mentioned ANWA, since I've heard so many great things about it. What a wonderful service for writers.

Gina, sometimes I still feel that way and I've published seven books! What is it about writers that makes us so insecure about ourselves?

Brittany, I always leave feeling revved up, too! It's like a mini-writing conference. :)

Sarah and Jill, I hope you can find one and I wished we all lived closer! Wouldn't it be fun to all be in a critique group together? At least we have the blog. :)