Having mentioned online crit groups on my blog in the past, I recently received e-mails from aspiring authors soliciting my opinion about them. Some are wary of subjecting their work to strangers who may tear apart their confidence as well as their manuscript, while others want to know if unbiased feedback will tell them whether or not their work is publishable.
Without my critique groups, I would never have grown as a writer – what they have taught me isn’t something you can learn from textbooks. The groups in which I participate, include writers of varying ages, sexes and nationalities, and the fact we are at different stages of our careers is an advantage - when you line edit a more skilled writer, you learn from their techniques, and by critiquing new writers who have yet to learn the basic rules, it helps you see why those rules are necessary. It's easier to see mistakes in others' work - you're often too close to see the flaws in your own writing.
Feedback can be inspiring, frustrating and hurtful at the same time. One thing to ask yourself is: Do you trust your critique partners? – I have some wonderful critiquers who edit my work not to score points, or show off their own research and superior writing skills; their intention is to genuinely help me make my work the best it can be. Which is of course what I do for them, although you have to remind yourself that whatever you say is your own opinion - not holy scripture.
I received a critique once from a very young writer. My in-built prejudice told me that you need to experience life and its adherent pain to be able to give your characters credible emotion, so I opened it with a cynical eye – only to be staggered by their insight. When I thought about it, I realised the critiquer was the same age as my character – so they got inside their head in a way I couldn’t.
Sometimes, a critiquer simply won’t ‘get’ your story. They misinterpret the actions of the characters, ask irrelevant questions, cannot understand the motivation or the direction of your story and comment that they don’t like the colour of the curtains in the heroine’s bedroom. Of course this could be because you haven’t explained it properly – in which case look at your work again. However, these are the ‘thank them and move on’ critiques. We are not all going to enjoy or even understand each other’s work – that doesn’t mean their writing – or yours, is no good. You are simply on different pages - excuse the pun.
If I am a bit stuck with where to go next with my work in progress, I hit the groups and read a few chapters to give myself a fresh aspect on the nuts and bolts of writing itself: sentence structure, dialogue, physical descriptions, scene transitions and techniques I can apply to my own writing. After three or four critiques I am anxious to get back to my own work again.
My groups helped me me get over the, ‘everyone must love my writing,’ syndrome us authors tend to suffer from. No one understands a writer like another writer, and my relationships with these people, most of whom I haven’t even met [but not all] is unique and I can honestly say I wouldn’t submit anything to a publisher until they had seen it first.
This post wasn’t intended as a tribute to my critique partners, but perhaps that’s overdue anyway – so my heartfelt thanks to you all – and you know who you are.
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