Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Who wants to belong to a “Critique” group when the very name says it all!?

Well… I did. Once!

Even today I’m not sure if it was a positive experience or not. First of all, the five of us belonged to the same RWA chapter and so we were able to meet in person. That certainly adds a different level to the interactions. Let’s face it, what you might write to a person you’ve never met just isn’t as easy to say in front of them especially when others are present.

Also, keep in mind that everyone has a different response when it comes to their work. We’re all possessive to a certain extent. Some of us more so! Truthfully, some get downright huffy if a point is made they don’t agree with. So it’s the old tippy-toeing to try and mention a mistake or weakness while the idea of giving your honest opinion goes out the window.

As much as I wanted to do my best for the other writers, it’s not easy telling someone you like, that the way they wrote a certain passage could be done a lot better. (In your opinion!) Or that they’ve used way too many words on something that didn’t warrant them. (In your opinion!) How about when it’s the pacing that’s bad, POV hopping, uninteresting characters, not enough emotion, or maybe the whole dang chapter should just be obliterated.

Then what do you do?

Decide that you know best? Try and sincerely help by swallowing your fear and let concern for their work take over. Maybe point out their weaknesses?

Probably lose a friend?  

Our group didn’t last too long. The lunches were lovely. The sharing of information very helpful. Brainstorming new plots was a high point of the time we spent together. But enjoying the critique part – for me – not so much!

The lesson I came away with – my editors could say the same things to me in a much more down-to-earth manner and I would totally accept that they knew better than I did. So… from now on it’s between me and them.

This was just my experience. I happen to know of an author who takes days to get over feeling horrible after being with her critique partners. She began questioning her talents, wondering if she should rewrite her work because of their amateur sentiments. Now, is that right? Does that help any author particularly one who’s unpublished?    

I think not…

On the other hand, there are many of my colleagues who love their partners, depend on their critiques to make their work shine and happily give up their time to read and correct each other's writing. If you are one of these lucky ones, please tell us how  you've managed it. 


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  1. It's odd but I think having a critique partner (singular) is easier than going to a critique group. I started a Writer's Workshop group (originally, it was going to be a one evening thing, hence Workshop, and then it kept going). Our group is multi-age and ability, and we mainly focus on encouraging one another. We don't get into tough critique stuff. We write together, share our writing, and then encourage one another. Some of these writers have a desire to be published and some don't. The youngest is 13, and the oldest will be 73 this year. We write together and have fun together.
    However, for critique, I have a couple of separate critique partners. I read their work, they read mine. We send each other notes via e-mail. It's polite and positive, but we don't ignore the problem areas. I struggled when my first CP told me she didn't like the name of one of my characters. It seemed so "picky," but then I realized she was right. The name didn't really work. So I changed it, and it helped me with character development.
    I've only been in one successful critique group of more than two people, and it came out of an intense Commercial Fiction writing class where the rules of critique for the class were laid out for us. Share 1-3 pages out loud, and then critique with this method: state one positive thing, one negative/critique, ask one question, and then repeat or note another positive thing. It actually worked really well. However, I moved and the commute upped to two hours, so I stopped going. :(

    Sorry, this is TMI . . . should have written a response post on my blog.

  2. Hi Tyrean, Thank you so much for not writing the response on your blog and for bringing your experience to us instead. I was hugely interested in your group and the fact that you encourage each other, write together and no major critiquing. Sounds like the kind of group I'd enjoy. It's the camaraderie that's so much fun when two or more authors get together and the sharing of info..

  3. Hi Mimi,
    When I first started writing, I had a less than positive critique group experience as well. I always have thought the multi-published authors lorded it over us newbies and took pleasure in tearing our work apart. Mind you this was just how I felt about it. I suppose it didn't help when one of the multi-published authors pulled me aside and told me I couldn't have a German Shepard dog in my story because she had just published a book with a German Shepard in it. And she was completely serious. Needless to say, I didn't participate in that group too long.

    I had a much better experience with just a critique partner. She taught me so much about point of view, telling vs. showing, passive voice. We still critique each other's work and I don't think either one of us worries about offending the other. Mainly because when we have something negative to point out, we say why we feel the way we do and why the particular scene, dialogue, or whatever doesn't work for us.

    1. Hi Katherine, The German Shepard story is just too much!! Imagine??! Glad you got away from that kind of toxic attitude. And I'm so glad that you found a soul mate to work with. I think it can be so positive when two people can learn from and with each other. Now that kind of experience (I am happy to say) I have with a few of my closer writer friends.

  4. Mimi-
    I just finished a book for an author and the nicest thing I can say about it is it's an absolute "train wreck." I didn't tell the author that because I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. Now I wonder if I did the wrong thing. It is the first time I've sent a book back feeling almost sick. The feeling hasn't left. This book should have taken me a day or two-it took me five. I just couldn't fix it. What a mess. Good talking to you Mimi, Leandra

    1. I'm so sorry for that Leandra. I know how hard you work and how much you want to be positive and to feel you're helping someone. Should you have said something? Personally, I'd want to be told. Because I know down the road, if the author is seriously career-minded, she'll be horrified at putting out unprofessional work. Also keeping in mind that you're a proofreader and not getting paid as an editor, if you need to pass out an editor's name to someone like this person so she/he can get the analysis they need, I can give you names.

    2. Unfortunately, she has an editor. I've done several books for her-sometimes I will suggest she might want to use a different word in a sentence (because the definition makes it inappropriate). She will often tell me that she likes the way the word looks or sounds-and leave it in.

    3. There's a very old saying that's appropriate here I think - you can only do what you can do and leave the rest up to you know who!! :-)

  5. I love my critique group. It probably helped that when I joined this was part of the blurb for the group:

    "Writing can be a lonely, frustrating business. At any moment most people engaged in it aren't getting anywhere much in terms of recognition or financial reward. For this reason, writers' groups have been set up to provide people with the support and encouragement they need to believe in their own abilities and keep writing.

    Infinitas is not one of those groups. In our meetings the purpose of criticism is not to build someone up (I love it! You are so amazingly talented!). Nor is it to tear them down (I tried it as toilet paper but it was too full of shit already.)

    The idea is, rather, to make the writing in particular and the author in general better than they were before you spoke."

    So it set very clear expectations. I've never hesitated to tell someone else in the group what I thought, and while receiving feedback is not always pleasant, it has often made the difference in a story's direction.

    1. Hi Ciara, Okay - I'd love your group!!! Helping someone get better is what it's all about. And if they're looking after your back - then that's even sweeter!