Sunday, June 21, 2015

Critique? Who? Me? By Barbara Edwards #MFRW #MyAHAshare

Critiquing is one of those skills that writers both hate and love. A good critique is worth its weight in gold. A poor critique can shatter a tender ego and put the writer into a tailspin.
How do I know? I’ve been on the receiving end of both. 
I belonged to a wonderful group  of five writers who met weekly for coffee and to exchange pages. The minimum was ten, but more could be added if someone had a good week. We always went forward. The chapters that were critiqued might be read as a whole when the manuscript was done. It kept us inspired. We did get published. Then I had to move to another state. Working on-line didn’t happen. 
The destructive critique came from a writing teacher. She checked my weekly offerings and then told me that I had no talent and should write for my own benefit. Cruel? Sure, but I’ve learned many people can be cruel. It took me years to recover from that blow.
  I’ve been without a critique partner. I think that after awhile I felt like I didn’t need one. I have books published, my editors like my work, and I’m comfortable with what I do. 
That last was the signal to me that I needed something. I looked at my latest mss and wasn’t satisfied anymore. I wanted to ask a friend to read it, but I realized I wanted more than a single view. Friends say they like it. Family always loves it. Friends don’t want to hurt your feelings. I need a critique.
This week I took the time from writing to attend a Romance Writers of America on-line class on how to critique and how to find a good critique partner. (Classes like this are a major benefit of belonging to RWA.) I happened to see a few people from RWA who were also searching. I contacted them and the experiment is in progress.
My first mistake according to the class is I wasn’t clear what I wanted from them and what I could offer in return. This is not a one-way street. If you don’t feel like an equal partner, the effort won’t last over time. I’m not talking about the excited, “Can you please look this love? I got a call from an editor.” I’m talking about the work that comes back with so much to change its not your any more or the consistent ‘there’s nothing to fix.”
Plan to exchange pages on a regular basis. 
Oh my, the speaker gave a great list of things to think about requesting. I’m not
including it because  it’s really geared to each writer. What I need might include grammar checks and plot flow, while you might need character consistency and goals. That’s why being clear helps.

I should add I was the Kiss of Death Chapter's original critique co-ordinator. I've judged contests both sate and national for 20 years. I've done classes on critiquing. I should know all this, but like everyone else, I forget.

I joined a Facebook group that is forming named Authors Critique Group. 

I’m not sure if the people I’m with will work out. I hope so. It can be discouraging and time-consuming, but I’m looking for the gold ring at the end of the ride.

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Diane Burton said...

Like you say, Barb, a good critiquer is worth her weight in gold. I miss the group I was in and need to find a partner who writes consistently.

Jannine Gallant said...

I found a great critique partner and friend in Margo. She isn't afraid to tell me when something doesn't work. Sometimes I say bad words when reading through her comments, but usually I make the suggested changes...or see that my way needs some sort of fix. Best of luck in finding that perfect match, Barb!

Rolynn Anderson said...

Jannine and Margo have a critical friend relationship that is enviable. As an English teacher, I taught my students how to critique each other, gently and with focus. I've seen the magical moments when reader response makes a difference to the writer. I have critiquers who look at my work when the book is finished, but none who help DURING process. Is that something I'm missing?

Barbara Edwards said...

Hey Diane,
Interesting how we're all in the same boat.

Barbara Edwards said...

Hey Diane,
Interesting how we're all in the same boat.

Barbara Edwards said...

Good for you both. It's so nice to have that feedback.

Barbara Edwards said...

I can't tell you what will work for you. I found weekly exchanges kept be moving forward on my WIP. The nice part was doing the same for them. It kept me sharp to recognize errors in my work.

Leah St. James said...

Great post, Barbara. Critique groups can be a blessing or a curse. You're not the first person I've heard with stories of "bad" partners/groups who turned them off writing.

Setting goals and expectations, I think, is so important. I also think it's important to find a partner (or group) whose writing experience is comparable to yours.

I haven't been a part of a group in a long time, but I'm starting to meet with a few writers occasionally to talk about writing. Maybe something will stick!

Alison Henderson said...

Great post, Barb. Critique partners and/or groups have been on my mind for quite a while. I worked with a group about 20 years ago, and learned a HUGE amount from a couple of the members - not so much from the others. We all wrote at different levels, and it was a problem. I also worked with a single partner on my last book. She was a lovely woman who wrote in a different sub-genre and couldn't bring herself to ever say anything negative. I'm not sure either of us got much from that relationship. Now that we've moved, I don't even have a local RWA chapter any more. I'll be interested to hear how your online experiment goes. Maybe I'll have to try that.

Barbara Edwards said...

Hi Leah,
I hope your groups works out for you. I'm always surprised when something wonderful ahppens.

Barbara Edwards said...

Hi Alison,
I'm glad I took the class to make me really think about what I want and need. I am looking for that fit.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Good information. We've all been there. Best of luck on your journey. Jannine's right. We do have a great critique friend relationship that started on day one. Neither one of us is reluctant to be honest with the other. Ever. Worth it's weight in gold, you bet.