Critique Groups-My New Best Friends
Breathe. Just breathe. In and out. Slower. Good. Now, relax through the pain…
No, this isn’t me in labor, this is me when I got my first critiques from a Writer’s Group! The first negative feedback against my “baby”, my manuscript −that I had lovingly written, paid careful attention to every detail, agonized over for two years− felt like a punch in the gut. I know there were positive comments in the first critiques too…but I only heard the negative. I only saw the red lines. I almost threw in my writers towel right then and there.
But I gave it a little time. A day or two. I waited for the prideful, Mama Bear to settle down and I read the comments again. The second time, I argued with them like a brat in my head. Well, you have to understand…I didn’t mean it that way…who are you to judge me? You just don’t know my character! I stormed around the house, scrubbing toilets and wiping windows. Fuming and cleaning my house from top to bottom, which is what I do when I’m upset…
But I gave it a little more time. A week. I got some emotional distance. I thought of one specific comment from a group member that made a lot of sense. I tried her suggestion and altered my precious manuscript…and I liked it. She was right. The sentence was much less cluttered her way! So, I worked on another suggestion and another. With every alteration I made, the angry child in me laid down and a grateful woman arose. Those wonderful ladies made the first chapter I submitted better! A lot better! I was instantly in love! And I WANTED MORE!
For the past two years, I have been a member of two Writer’s Critique Groups. One meets in person and the other online. I love them both and my novel is light years ahead of my first drafts because of their careful attention to my characters, plot, sentence structure, themes, etc. I am beyond grateful for their advice and support. I never would have had the courage to give my novel to Beta Readers this November if it wasn’t for them. Robynne, Karen S, Karen F, Anna, Rose, Libby, Dina, Valerie and Johnna. My personal writing coaches, confidants and cheering squad!
With them I have learned how to cut the fat, write in active voice, enrich my descriptions, delve into Deep POV, keep my timelines consistent and kill my darlings. Their comments are invaluable tools I use to shape my novel into something marketable and readable. They are like fairy godmothers, giving me the beautiful dress, sparkling glass slippers and a gorgeous up-do to capture the heart of the handsome prince (the reader!).
Once they “dress up” a chapter for me, all I have to do, is USE the suggestions they give. Spend the time analyzing my chapters through their eyes and implementing the changes. Not always easy, but always worth it.
Do I use every single suggestion they make? No. But I’m just as glad to get the comments I don’t agree with, as the ones I do. Why? Because then I have to prove to myself why I don’t think the comment has merit. They challenge me to defend my work, to me! To be honest…I don’t find comments that I don’t use very often. And if more than one group member gives me the same note, I almost always take it and make the alteration. Even if I’m not sure I agree.
The other thing I've gotten from being a part of Writer's Groups is the toughing of my skin. Remember my response to the first critiques? The punch in the gut? Well, the more time I spend in the "hot seat" as we call it, the more callouses on my heart I earn. The more criticism I take about my work, the less I take it personally. And this is super important...why? Because if I can't handle a fellow writer making these kinds of comments, how am I going to handle a professional editor making them? 'Cause they ain’t gonna pull any punches. Or how will I handle it when a reader trashes me in an Amazon review? Says all kinds of unfair things about my novel just because it wasn’t their cup of tea? The writers in my group love me, they are on my side and I’m blessed to learn how to take criticism from them first, before I have to take it from those who don't care a lick about me.
So, with the help of my Critique Groups I felt confident and tough-skinned enough to present my novel to Beta Readers this Fall. Readers, not writers, so they view my work differently. Beta Reading is essential for the author before moving on to the next stage of seeking publication. I have gathered a fantastic group of Betas and I will discuss how I found them and what they bring to the table in my next blog post… (Note: I moved my blogposts about writing over to my wordpress account. If you want to know more about my writing process, check it out!)