Critiquing

Wdesklady1_3 From Pat Rice:

“Maggie” asks: I’d like to know how critique groups work and your opinion of their value. I live pretty far away from the nearest RWA chapter, so I’ve just been typing in the wilderness. I’m not ready to have my babies butchered by strangers, and my friends are not romance readers (plus, they’re my friends. And I want to keep it that way). How many of you depend on critique partners? Who goes it alone?
As a former English teacher, I know I’m pretty quick with the red pen. As an avid reader, my eyes glaze over at the first sign of cliches, even though I know there’s no new plot under the sun. I wouldn’t want me for a critique partner! Any advice?

I’m answering this cry in the wilderness since it relates to my own experience as a beginning author.  I lived in a very rural area, didn’t know RWA existed, and struggled alone for years.  I believe there’s an on-line RWA chapter now, so you don’t have to go it alone these days, but choosing a critique partner…  That’s tough even in person.  On-line, it has to be worse.

I attempted a critique group once, after I’d met enough people wanting to write in my rural area.  We used rules from another group, read our material aloud each week, and then let the others react to it.  So if there were five people there that night, it was possible to get five different reactions. With enough experience, it was possible to learn which ones were almost on the same wavelength as I was, but it was slow going. I write much faster than they could critique, and I didn’t find the advice valuable since there was only one other romance writer who understood the emotional resonance we have to deliver, and my experience put me on a different learning curve than the rest.

Over the years since, whenever I’ve attempted to start a different kind of book, I’ve looked for someone familiar in that genre, whose work I respected, to read my opening chapters to see if I was on the right track.  None of them were ever as hard on me as I was on myself, although occasionally they’d point out a missing bit or make useful suggestions.Mmiscidealightbulbnet

I finally found a person who does professional editing who has the same romance sensibility as I do who reads all my material before I turn it in.  That’s as close to critiquing as I get these days.  I have friends who will read opening chapters and tell me if I’m off base when I first get started on a book, and sometimes I’ll run other bits by them during the draft stage.  Since these friends are already familiar with my story, they help me find places where I can up the ante or where I’ve forgotten a thread or where a thread needs adding.  I consider all of the above invaluable advice because my eyes start drifting past passages that I’ve read and re-read a dozen times.  But I don’t consider any of them as critiquing partners. 

So, from my point of view, critiquing may work if you’re lucky enough to find someone who understands you and your book and where you’re going with it, someone with equal experience or better. But that will only last as long as the two of you continue on that wavelength.  Finding more than one person who is that understanding may be impossible, especially if you don’t have a large group of writers to draw from.

Your best bet—should you join a critique group or find a partner—would be to ask for critiquing of specific elements of your book:  is it emotional, does the pacing work, are the characters memorable, and so forth.  Given a definite task, most writers will be able to read a book with that in mind and possibly give you a straight answer.  I should think the on-line groups might be good for that.

If you’re not ready to send your book to strangers, then the contest route won’t work for you.  It’s not totally reliable since even other writers can go off on strange tangents or have different interests, but contests that critique your work might give you some ideas to gnaw on.  Really, that’s the most you can hope for out of any critique partner—giving you a different, fresh perspective.

But once you ask someone for a critique, you need to be prepared to bring out that red pen in return!  Finding the balance between cruel destruction by red ink and helpful suggestions isn’t easy.  But if each of you specify your concerns, there’s no need to correct grammar and punctuation.  It’s enough to underline a cliché, compliment a particularly striking passage, and focus on the concern at hand. If you happen to notice something is missing in the storyline, that can be noted, or if you have a bright idea that might take the work in an exciting direction, maybe jot that down.  The point of critiquing is to be helpful, not destructive. 

I’m sure others on here can give more informed points of view on the subject, so please, anyone with experience, add your comments!

45 thoughts on “Critiquing”

  1. Actually, it’s Maggie who asked about critique groups, and thank you for your answer! I recently entered the Avon novella contest, but the reader comments weren’t always helpful—they were actually too complimentary. I was “guilty” leaving positive comments as well…there simply wasn’t enough space alloted to be more specific, and with chapters only running 1500 words, there were limitations as to how much you could mess up!
    I know I should fork over money to RWA. Maybe I’ll ask Santa. Thanks so much, Patricia, for your thoughtful advice.

    Reply
  2. Actually, it’s Maggie who asked about critique groups, and thank you for your answer! I recently entered the Avon novella contest, but the reader comments weren’t always helpful—they were actually too complimentary. I was “guilty” leaving positive comments as well…there simply wasn’t enough space alloted to be more specific, and with chapters only running 1500 words, there were limitations as to how much you could mess up!
    I know I should fork over money to RWA. Maybe I’ll ask Santa. Thanks so much, Patricia, for your thoughtful advice.

    Reply
  3. Actually, it’s Maggie who asked about critique groups, and thank you for your answer! I recently entered the Avon novella contest, but the reader comments weren’t always helpful—they were actually too complimentary. I was “guilty” leaving positive comments as well…there simply wasn’t enough space alloted to be more specific, and with chapters only running 1500 words, there were limitations as to how much you could mess up!
    I know I should fork over money to RWA. Maybe I’ll ask Santa. Thanks so much, Patricia, for your thoughtful advice.

    Reply
  4. I’m not sure how useful the experience of a non-fiction author like myself is, but I think it feeds into some of the comments made in Patricia’s blog, especially about the importance of readers being ‘on the same wavelength’.
    When writing purely academic work intended for one’s peers only, the people to whom one shows the draft are the colleagues who know the subject best: then, when submitted for publication, the work will also be peer-reviewed by other colleagues with similar expertise, but sometimes people whom the author does not know so well personally.
    But when someone like me writes a book that is intended as ‘popular’, aimed at readers who are interested amateurs, museum visitors, and so on, it is essential to show the draft to friends who are *not* professional colleagues, who resemble more closely the kind of reader for whom one is writing. They invariably pick up on phrases and ideas that seem obscure to them – and if they don’t understand what I have written, then neither will some of the intended readers. I have always found editors helpful in this respect, too.
    So I think the summary is that one needs to be sure that the people who assess the manuscript are the same kind of people for whom one is writing, and I suspect that is not always easy to do even in a group dedicated to mutual critiquing of romance novels.

    Reply
  5. I’m not sure how useful the experience of a non-fiction author like myself is, but I think it feeds into some of the comments made in Patricia’s blog, especially about the importance of readers being ‘on the same wavelength’.
    When writing purely academic work intended for one’s peers only, the people to whom one shows the draft are the colleagues who know the subject best: then, when submitted for publication, the work will also be peer-reviewed by other colleagues with similar expertise, but sometimes people whom the author does not know so well personally.
    But when someone like me writes a book that is intended as ‘popular’, aimed at readers who are interested amateurs, museum visitors, and so on, it is essential to show the draft to friends who are *not* professional colleagues, who resemble more closely the kind of reader for whom one is writing. They invariably pick up on phrases and ideas that seem obscure to them – and if they don’t understand what I have written, then neither will some of the intended readers. I have always found editors helpful in this respect, too.
    So I think the summary is that one needs to be sure that the people who assess the manuscript are the same kind of people for whom one is writing, and I suspect that is not always easy to do even in a group dedicated to mutual critiquing of romance novels.

    Reply
  6. I’m not sure how useful the experience of a non-fiction author like myself is, but I think it feeds into some of the comments made in Patricia’s blog, especially about the importance of readers being ‘on the same wavelength’.
    When writing purely academic work intended for one’s peers only, the people to whom one shows the draft are the colleagues who know the subject best: then, when submitted for publication, the work will also be peer-reviewed by other colleagues with similar expertise, but sometimes people whom the author does not know so well personally.
    But when someone like me writes a book that is intended as ‘popular’, aimed at readers who are interested amateurs, museum visitors, and so on, it is essential to show the draft to friends who are *not* professional colleagues, who resemble more closely the kind of reader for whom one is writing. They invariably pick up on phrases and ideas that seem obscure to them – and if they don’t understand what I have written, then neither will some of the intended readers. I have always found editors helpful in this respect, too.
    So I think the summary is that one needs to be sure that the people who assess the manuscript are the same kind of people for whom one is writing, and I suspect that is not always easy to do even in a group dedicated to mutual critiquing of romance novels.

    Reply
  7. I have to pipe in here and say that I met all my critique partners online (I’ve never met a one of them in person) and several of them have become my very best friends in the months since we began working together. Maggie, you know several of them from FanLit (Lacey, Darcy, Leigh, and Kimberley are all CPs of mine).
    Although at the moment, I’m not actively exchanging chapters for true “critiques” with any of my CPs (because I want to finish my WIP and not get bogged down in making corrections until I’m actually done–maybe later this week if things go well!), I have to say that their feedback has been invaluable. And while I know that my exchanges with them before I finished my manuscript undoubtedly slowed my progress, I’m glad I didn’t wait until I had written an truly craptastic first draft (instead of a moderately craptastic one) to get feedback, because even though I might have gotten to the end more quickly, I suspect it would have been a true train wreck! I might have been able to rescue it, but then again, maybe not. I was making all kinds of mistakes I wasn’t even aware I was making until they were pointed out to me.
    So, I’m all in favor of critique partners and of finding them online as well. I found my CPs in a combination of ways. I met Lacey and Darcy through a Yahoo group called Aspiring_Romance_Writers. I met Kim and another of my partners, Janice, through the RWC Critique Yahoo Group (which is a great place to start if you’re interested in getting critiques but not sure you’re ready for a “partnership” just yet). And Leigh emailed me because I asked Charlotte Dillon (who runs several RWC Yahoo lists) to put me in her email of writers seeking critique partners (I really have to have her take me OUT, LOL!).
    So, bottom line: I heartily endorse critique partners, though not necessarily critique “groups” if that makes sense. I’ve built individual relationships with each of my CPs (though Lacey and Darcy and I do work together as more of a “group”) and value each of them for different reasons.

    Reply
  8. I have to pipe in here and say that I met all my critique partners online (I’ve never met a one of them in person) and several of them have become my very best friends in the months since we began working together. Maggie, you know several of them from FanLit (Lacey, Darcy, Leigh, and Kimberley are all CPs of mine).
    Although at the moment, I’m not actively exchanging chapters for true “critiques” with any of my CPs (because I want to finish my WIP and not get bogged down in making corrections until I’m actually done–maybe later this week if things go well!), I have to say that their feedback has been invaluable. And while I know that my exchanges with them before I finished my manuscript undoubtedly slowed my progress, I’m glad I didn’t wait until I had written an truly craptastic first draft (instead of a moderately craptastic one) to get feedback, because even though I might have gotten to the end more quickly, I suspect it would have been a true train wreck! I might have been able to rescue it, but then again, maybe not. I was making all kinds of mistakes I wasn’t even aware I was making until they were pointed out to me.
    So, I’m all in favor of critique partners and of finding them online as well. I found my CPs in a combination of ways. I met Lacey and Darcy through a Yahoo group called Aspiring_Romance_Writers. I met Kim and another of my partners, Janice, through the RWC Critique Yahoo Group (which is a great place to start if you’re interested in getting critiques but not sure you’re ready for a “partnership” just yet). And Leigh emailed me because I asked Charlotte Dillon (who runs several RWC Yahoo lists) to put me in her email of writers seeking critique partners (I really have to have her take me OUT, LOL!).
    So, bottom line: I heartily endorse critique partners, though not necessarily critique “groups” if that makes sense. I’ve built individual relationships with each of my CPs (though Lacey and Darcy and I do work together as more of a “group”) and value each of them for different reasons.

    Reply
  9. I have to pipe in here and say that I met all my critique partners online (I’ve never met a one of them in person) and several of them have become my very best friends in the months since we began working together. Maggie, you know several of them from FanLit (Lacey, Darcy, Leigh, and Kimberley are all CPs of mine).
    Although at the moment, I’m not actively exchanging chapters for true “critiques” with any of my CPs (because I want to finish my WIP and not get bogged down in making corrections until I’m actually done–maybe later this week if things go well!), I have to say that their feedback has been invaluable. And while I know that my exchanges with them before I finished my manuscript undoubtedly slowed my progress, I’m glad I didn’t wait until I had written an truly craptastic first draft (instead of a moderately craptastic one) to get feedback, because even though I might have gotten to the end more quickly, I suspect it would have been a true train wreck! I might have been able to rescue it, but then again, maybe not. I was making all kinds of mistakes I wasn’t even aware I was making until they were pointed out to me.
    So, I’m all in favor of critique partners and of finding them online as well. I found my CPs in a combination of ways. I met Lacey and Darcy through a Yahoo group called Aspiring_Romance_Writers. I met Kim and another of my partners, Janice, through the RWC Critique Yahoo Group (which is a great place to start if you’re interested in getting critiques but not sure you’re ready for a “partnership” just yet). And Leigh emailed me because I asked Charlotte Dillon (who runs several RWC Yahoo lists) to put me in her email of writers seeking critique partners (I really have to have her take me OUT, LOL!).
    So, bottom line: I heartily endorse critique partners, though not necessarily critique “groups” if that makes sense. I’ve built individual relationships with each of my CPs (though Lacey and Darcy and I do work together as more of a “group”) and value each of them for different reasons.

    Reply
  10. Excellent, thank you so much for experienced information. I hate sounding like an omniscient goddess when I’m just struggling along the best I can like everyone else. Group info is far preferable. And thank you Jacqueline for providing detailed info for those interested in looking for partners.
    Love the word craptastic!

    Reply
  11. Excellent, thank you so much for experienced information. I hate sounding like an omniscient goddess when I’m just struggling along the best I can like everyone else. Group info is far preferable. And thank you Jacqueline for providing detailed info for those interested in looking for partners.
    Love the word craptastic!

    Reply
  12. Excellent, thank you so much for experienced information. I hate sounding like an omniscient goddess when I’m just struggling along the best I can like everyone else. Group info is far preferable. And thank you Jacqueline for providing detailed info for those interested in looking for partners.
    Love the word craptastic!

    Reply
  13. I’ve used critique groups for about 20 years so clearly find them very useful. But my one experience with a group of mixed writers wasn’t so useful. At the least, I think the critique partners need to read and enjoy the sort of thing we’re writing.
    I think we also need to be fairly confident and thick-skinned. It’s rude to get weepy if someone finds our work less than perfect, and foolish to keep changing it to try to please.
    I like to pass things by people with a more objective eye, and also people with a different knowledge base. I’m always too close to my work, and by the time my editor sees it, it’s abit late for major revisions.
    Anyway, it’s pleasant to hang out with people who share my interests. Writing can be very solitary.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  14. I’ve used critique groups for about 20 years so clearly find them very useful. But my one experience with a group of mixed writers wasn’t so useful. At the least, I think the critique partners need to read and enjoy the sort of thing we’re writing.
    I think we also need to be fairly confident and thick-skinned. It’s rude to get weepy if someone finds our work less than perfect, and foolish to keep changing it to try to please.
    I like to pass things by people with a more objective eye, and also people with a different knowledge base. I’m always too close to my work, and by the time my editor sees it, it’s abit late for major revisions.
    Anyway, it’s pleasant to hang out with people who share my interests. Writing can be very solitary.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  15. I’ve used critique groups for about 20 years so clearly find them very useful. But my one experience with a group of mixed writers wasn’t so useful. At the least, I think the critique partners need to read and enjoy the sort of thing we’re writing.
    I think we also need to be fairly confident and thick-skinned. It’s rude to get weepy if someone finds our work less than perfect, and foolish to keep changing it to try to please.
    I like to pass things by people with a more objective eye, and also people with a different knowledge base. I’m always too close to my work, and by the time my editor sees it, it’s abit late for major revisions.
    Anyway, it’s pleasant to hang out with people who share my interests. Writing can be very solitary.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  16. Wow! Thank you all for taking the time to clue me in on your critiquing experiences. Sounds like I’ve got another goal for 2007. 🙂

    Reply
  17. Wow! Thank you all for taking the time to clue me in on your critiquing experiences. Sounds like I’ve got another goal for 2007. 🙂

    Reply
  18. Wow! Thank you all for taking the time to clue me in on your critiquing experiences. Sounds like I’ve got another goal for 2007. 🙂

    Reply
  19. Jacqueline said… “I was making all kinds of mistakes I wasn’t even aware I was making until they were pointed out to me.”
    Marvelously said, Jacqueline!
    My advice is to first know what you want out of a critique (readers’ opinions, a manuscript ready to send out, etc…) and how much you’re willing to spend to get what you want.
    Working with critique partners can be fun and enjoyable. As Wench Jo said, writing can be solitary work. But, reading and critiquing other’s work consumes both time and emotional energy. Expensive if such things are in limited supply in your world. Although, you can also learn a lot by reading other’s work. Like my father always said, there’s nothing cheaper than learning from other peoples’ mistakes.
    If, however, you want to move quickly and finish with a manuscript that’s ready to be sent out, I recommend calling Sherrie Holmes, our illustrious Whip and Moderator. (See her smiling picture on the left sidebar) Sherrie worked with me on my EHF ms. I learned more from her in the few months we spent together than I did in a year of critique group meetings. We moved fast and we moved efficiently.
    Bottom line… IMHO, when it comets to critiquing, it all depends on what you want out of the experience, how much you want to spend, and how fast you want to move

    Reply
  20. Jacqueline said… “I was making all kinds of mistakes I wasn’t even aware I was making until they were pointed out to me.”
    Marvelously said, Jacqueline!
    My advice is to first know what you want out of a critique (readers’ opinions, a manuscript ready to send out, etc…) and how much you’re willing to spend to get what you want.
    Working with critique partners can be fun and enjoyable. As Wench Jo said, writing can be solitary work. But, reading and critiquing other’s work consumes both time and emotional energy. Expensive if such things are in limited supply in your world. Although, you can also learn a lot by reading other’s work. Like my father always said, there’s nothing cheaper than learning from other peoples’ mistakes.
    If, however, you want to move quickly and finish with a manuscript that’s ready to be sent out, I recommend calling Sherrie Holmes, our illustrious Whip and Moderator. (See her smiling picture on the left sidebar) Sherrie worked with me on my EHF ms. I learned more from her in the few months we spent together than I did in a year of critique group meetings. We moved fast and we moved efficiently.
    Bottom line… IMHO, when it comets to critiquing, it all depends on what you want out of the experience, how much you want to spend, and how fast you want to move

    Reply
  21. Jacqueline said… “I was making all kinds of mistakes I wasn’t even aware I was making until they were pointed out to me.”
    Marvelously said, Jacqueline!
    My advice is to first know what you want out of a critique (readers’ opinions, a manuscript ready to send out, etc…) and how much you’re willing to spend to get what you want.
    Working with critique partners can be fun and enjoyable. As Wench Jo said, writing can be solitary work. But, reading and critiquing other’s work consumes both time and emotional energy. Expensive if such things are in limited supply in your world. Although, you can also learn a lot by reading other’s work. Like my father always said, there’s nothing cheaper than learning from other peoples’ mistakes.
    If, however, you want to move quickly and finish with a manuscript that’s ready to be sent out, I recommend calling Sherrie Holmes, our illustrious Whip and Moderator. (See her smiling picture on the left sidebar) Sherrie worked with me on my EHF ms. I learned more from her in the few months we spent together than I did in a year of critique group meetings. We moved fast and we moved efficiently.
    Bottom line… IMHO, when it comets to critiquing, it all depends on what you want out of the experience, how much you want to spend, and how fast you want to move

    Reply
  22. Jo Beverly wrote:

    Writing can be very solitary.

    This is so true. And it’s one of the reasons I’ve found having critique partners who live in my online universe so valuable. If I’m stuck on a scene, need a little encouragement or (more often than I’d like to admit) praise, or am just generally feeling lonely, my CPs are always there for me.
    Like I said, it’s one of the reasons I consider them all among my best friends in the universe.

    Reply
  23. Jo Beverly wrote:

    Writing can be very solitary.

    This is so true. And it’s one of the reasons I’ve found having critique partners who live in my online universe so valuable. If I’m stuck on a scene, need a little encouragement or (more often than I’d like to admit) praise, or am just generally feeling lonely, my CPs are always there for me.
    Like I said, it’s one of the reasons I consider them all among my best friends in the universe.

    Reply
  24. Jo Beverly wrote:

    Writing can be very solitary.

    This is so true. And it’s one of the reasons I’ve found having critique partners who live in my online universe so valuable. If I’m stuck on a scene, need a little encouragement or (more often than I’d like to admit) praise, or am just generally feeling lonely, my CPs are always there for me.
    Like I said, it’s one of the reasons I consider them all among my best friends in the universe.

    Reply
  25. I had a critique group for a long, long time. I dedicated my first book to them, because without them, that book would *not* have been remotely publishable.
    We met in person, which was helpful, and while we wrote different subgenres, we all wrote romance, which was also helpful.
    We had a couple of rules that I really liked: one, you had to point out the stuff that worked for you as well as the stuff that didn’t (which could help you keep from throwing out the baby with the bathwater); and two, if something didn’t work for you, you had to explain–as well as you could–why and you had suggest a “fix.” Even if you didn’t agree with the suggested fixes, for me they were incrediblly useful because they often did better than the explanation of showing what the problem was, and they sparked ideas.
    From my perspective, the group sort of fell apart over the last couple of years. At any rate, I don’t meet with them any more. Given my rate of production, that’s okay, but when I’m done with whatever I finish next, I am going to want a fresh pair (or so) of eyes to look at what I have, to see what I’m too close to see any more.
    So count me among those who’ve found the critique group experience valuable. The thing is, these days I worry more about global issues of structure and pacing–big things that you can’t see in scenes or chapters or much less than whole acts of the story. So if I were in a critique group, it would have to be one that met less frequently, so we could give each other whole chunks of book…

    Reply
  26. I had a critique group for a long, long time. I dedicated my first book to them, because without them, that book would *not* have been remotely publishable.
    We met in person, which was helpful, and while we wrote different subgenres, we all wrote romance, which was also helpful.
    We had a couple of rules that I really liked: one, you had to point out the stuff that worked for you as well as the stuff that didn’t (which could help you keep from throwing out the baby with the bathwater); and two, if something didn’t work for you, you had to explain–as well as you could–why and you had suggest a “fix.” Even if you didn’t agree with the suggested fixes, for me they were incrediblly useful because they often did better than the explanation of showing what the problem was, and they sparked ideas.
    From my perspective, the group sort of fell apart over the last couple of years. At any rate, I don’t meet with them any more. Given my rate of production, that’s okay, but when I’m done with whatever I finish next, I am going to want a fresh pair (or so) of eyes to look at what I have, to see what I’m too close to see any more.
    So count me among those who’ve found the critique group experience valuable. The thing is, these days I worry more about global issues of structure and pacing–big things that you can’t see in scenes or chapters or much less than whole acts of the story. So if I were in a critique group, it would have to be one that met less frequently, so we could give each other whole chunks of book…

    Reply
  27. I had a critique group for a long, long time. I dedicated my first book to them, because without them, that book would *not* have been remotely publishable.
    We met in person, which was helpful, and while we wrote different subgenres, we all wrote romance, which was also helpful.
    We had a couple of rules that I really liked: one, you had to point out the stuff that worked for you as well as the stuff that didn’t (which could help you keep from throwing out the baby with the bathwater); and two, if something didn’t work for you, you had to explain–as well as you could–why and you had suggest a “fix.” Even if you didn’t agree with the suggested fixes, for me they were incrediblly useful because they often did better than the explanation of showing what the problem was, and they sparked ideas.
    From my perspective, the group sort of fell apart over the last couple of years. At any rate, I don’t meet with them any more. Given my rate of production, that’s okay, but when I’m done with whatever I finish next, I am going to want a fresh pair (or so) of eyes to look at what I have, to see what I’m too close to see any more.
    So count me among those who’ve found the critique group experience valuable. The thing is, these days I worry more about global issues of structure and pacing–big things that you can’t see in scenes or chapters or much less than whole acts of the story. So if I were in a critique group, it would have to be one that met less frequently, so we could give each other whole chunks of book…

    Reply
  28. From Sherrie:
    Wench Jo said: “I think we also need to be fairly confident and thick-skinned. It’s rude to get weepy if someone finds our work less than perfect, and foolish to keep changing it to try to please.”
    Hear, hear!!! Jo is spot on. Submitting your work to another for critiquing has only one purpose–to improve your story and your writing. You must set your ego aside and approach critiques with an open mind and a rhinoceros hide. Getting weepy and offended is unprofessional. (Wincing, however, is acceptable.) *g*
    I belong to two critique groups. One is a casual brainstorming group of 4 romance writers, and we meet online whenever the need occurs. The other is a mixed-genre group of 6 that I’ve belonged to since the earth was still warm. We are all dear friends, but we’re ruthless critiquers.
    I don’t like it when a person reads their work out loud and everybody comments on it. I have belonged to groups like that, and time and again I’ve seen others swayed by forceful personalities or by someone who pipes up with something offbeat, then everyone jumps on the bandwagon and it skews the rest of the critique and everyone else’s opinions. In my mixed-genre group we hand out stuff, take it home to write our comments on, then meet the next week and critique it out loud. For me, this works best because I am getting “pure” written critiques not swayed by group dynamics. But that’s just me. This works perfectly well for others, especially if the group is small.
    I’m a freelance editor working primarily with writers, and one thing I find shocking is the number of clients who have done nothing to educate themselves. They belong to no writers’ organizations, nor have critique partners, nor have they ever cracked a writing book or attended a writing class or a conference. It shows in their work, and it leaves them emotionally unprepared and vulnerable when they do get their first critique or professional edit. (P.S. Thanks for the plug, Nina!)

    Reply
  29. From Sherrie:
    Wench Jo said: “I think we also need to be fairly confident and thick-skinned. It’s rude to get weepy if someone finds our work less than perfect, and foolish to keep changing it to try to please.”
    Hear, hear!!! Jo is spot on. Submitting your work to another for critiquing has only one purpose–to improve your story and your writing. You must set your ego aside and approach critiques with an open mind and a rhinoceros hide. Getting weepy and offended is unprofessional. (Wincing, however, is acceptable.) *g*
    I belong to two critique groups. One is a casual brainstorming group of 4 romance writers, and we meet online whenever the need occurs. The other is a mixed-genre group of 6 that I’ve belonged to since the earth was still warm. We are all dear friends, but we’re ruthless critiquers.
    I don’t like it when a person reads their work out loud and everybody comments on it. I have belonged to groups like that, and time and again I’ve seen others swayed by forceful personalities or by someone who pipes up with something offbeat, then everyone jumps on the bandwagon and it skews the rest of the critique and everyone else’s opinions. In my mixed-genre group we hand out stuff, take it home to write our comments on, then meet the next week and critique it out loud. For me, this works best because I am getting “pure” written critiques not swayed by group dynamics. But that’s just me. This works perfectly well for others, especially if the group is small.
    I’m a freelance editor working primarily with writers, and one thing I find shocking is the number of clients who have done nothing to educate themselves. They belong to no writers’ organizations, nor have critique partners, nor have they ever cracked a writing book or attended a writing class or a conference. It shows in their work, and it leaves them emotionally unprepared and vulnerable when they do get their first critique or professional edit. (P.S. Thanks for the plug, Nina!)

    Reply
  30. From Sherrie:
    Wench Jo said: “I think we also need to be fairly confident and thick-skinned. It’s rude to get weepy if someone finds our work less than perfect, and foolish to keep changing it to try to please.”
    Hear, hear!!! Jo is spot on. Submitting your work to another for critiquing has only one purpose–to improve your story and your writing. You must set your ego aside and approach critiques with an open mind and a rhinoceros hide. Getting weepy and offended is unprofessional. (Wincing, however, is acceptable.) *g*
    I belong to two critique groups. One is a casual brainstorming group of 4 romance writers, and we meet online whenever the need occurs. The other is a mixed-genre group of 6 that I’ve belonged to since the earth was still warm. We are all dear friends, but we’re ruthless critiquers.
    I don’t like it when a person reads their work out loud and everybody comments on it. I have belonged to groups like that, and time and again I’ve seen others swayed by forceful personalities or by someone who pipes up with something offbeat, then everyone jumps on the bandwagon and it skews the rest of the critique and everyone else’s opinions. In my mixed-genre group we hand out stuff, take it home to write our comments on, then meet the next week and critique it out loud. For me, this works best because I am getting “pure” written critiques not swayed by group dynamics. But that’s just me. This works perfectly well for others, especially if the group is small.
    I’m a freelance editor working primarily with writers, and one thing I find shocking is the number of clients who have done nothing to educate themselves. They belong to no writers’ organizations, nor have critique partners, nor have they ever cracked a writing book or attended a writing class or a conference. It shows in their work, and it leaves them emotionally unprepared and vulnerable when they do get their first critique or professional edit. (P.S. Thanks for the plug, Nina!)

    Reply
  31. Katy said: “So if I were in a critique group, it would have to be one that met less frequently, so we could give each other whole chunks of book…”
    Katy, in my critique group we do it both ways. Some of them bring single chapters each week, and others just get critiques on the first couple chapters and then we see nothing from them until the book is done, at which point we read the entire MS.

    Reply
  32. Katy said: “So if I were in a critique group, it would have to be one that met less frequently, so we could give each other whole chunks of book…”
    Katy, in my critique group we do it both ways. Some of them bring single chapters each week, and others just get critiques on the first couple chapters and then we see nothing from them until the book is done, at which point we read the entire MS.

    Reply
  33. Katy said: “So if I were in a critique group, it would have to be one that met less frequently, so we could give each other whole chunks of book…”
    Katy, in my critique group we do it both ways. Some of them bring single chapters each week, and others just get critiques on the first couple chapters and then we see nothing from them until the book is done, at which point we read the entire MS.

    Reply
  34. The point about being able to take criticism without falling apart is crucial: nobody can get a manuscript through from concept to final printed book without having to cope with some adverse criticism, so one might as well start dealing with it at an early stage in the writing. And once the work is an actual book, it is going to get reviewed…
    Reviewers can sometimes be cruel and even unjust, and a writer has to be prepared both to benefit from well-founded criticism, and to brush aside *ill*-founded criticism with a shrug, and carry on, undaunted.
    Writing for publication is not for the faint-hearted.

    Reply
  35. The point about being able to take criticism without falling apart is crucial: nobody can get a manuscript through from concept to final printed book without having to cope with some adverse criticism, so one might as well start dealing with it at an early stage in the writing. And once the work is an actual book, it is going to get reviewed…
    Reviewers can sometimes be cruel and even unjust, and a writer has to be prepared both to benefit from well-founded criticism, and to brush aside *ill*-founded criticism with a shrug, and carry on, undaunted.
    Writing for publication is not for the faint-hearted.

    Reply
  36. The point about being able to take criticism without falling apart is crucial: nobody can get a manuscript through from concept to final printed book without having to cope with some adverse criticism, so one might as well start dealing with it at an early stage in the writing. And once the work is an actual book, it is going to get reviewed…
    Reviewers can sometimes be cruel and even unjust, and a writer has to be prepared both to benefit from well-founded criticism, and to brush aside *ill*-founded criticism with a shrug, and carry on, undaunted.
    Writing for publication is not for the faint-hearted.

    Reply
  37. I started my writing journey as a journalist, so I learned early the joys and travails of being edited. A really good editor or critique partner is a pleasure and the best thing that can happen to you; a really bad one of either is rather like the bird who dropped his business on my nose as he flew by. (Yes, it really did happen!) With a good editor or critique partner, you learn to love the pain because of its results, similar to getting a deep muscle massage. You may scream while it’s happening, but you feel so good later! The trick is finding one of either. If you find one, ply her with chocolates.
    My most memorable critique moment came with an online friend who published in the Harlequin Love & Laughter line in the 1990s. I sent around a short story I was working on whose triggering event was a hog butchering in rural Appalachia. I described the event, but didn’t devote pages and pages to it. The critique friend wrote back saying she thought it was awful, and why would I even want to write something like that anyway? I think she actually used the word “sick” (she clearly did not read Stephen King, much less Thomas Harris). It taught me that you truly do need to work only with those who like the kind of thing you write. Otherwise they can’t see past the topic to the prose or structure.

    Reply
  38. I started my writing journey as a journalist, so I learned early the joys and travails of being edited. A really good editor or critique partner is a pleasure and the best thing that can happen to you; a really bad one of either is rather like the bird who dropped his business on my nose as he flew by. (Yes, it really did happen!) With a good editor or critique partner, you learn to love the pain because of its results, similar to getting a deep muscle massage. You may scream while it’s happening, but you feel so good later! The trick is finding one of either. If you find one, ply her with chocolates.
    My most memorable critique moment came with an online friend who published in the Harlequin Love & Laughter line in the 1990s. I sent around a short story I was working on whose triggering event was a hog butchering in rural Appalachia. I described the event, but didn’t devote pages and pages to it. The critique friend wrote back saying she thought it was awful, and why would I even want to write something like that anyway? I think she actually used the word “sick” (she clearly did not read Stephen King, much less Thomas Harris). It taught me that you truly do need to work only with those who like the kind of thing you write. Otherwise they can’t see past the topic to the prose or structure.

    Reply
  39. I started my writing journey as a journalist, so I learned early the joys and travails of being edited. A really good editor or critique partner is a pleasure and the best thing that can happen to you; a really bad one of either is rather like the bird who dropped his business on my nose as he flew by. (Yes, it really did happen!) With a good editor or critique partner, you learn to love the pain because of its results, similar to getting a deep muscle massage. You may scream while it’s happening, but you feel so good later! The trick is finding one of either. If you find one, ply her with chocolates.
    My most memorable critique moment came with an online friend who published in the Harlequin Love & Laughter line in the 1990s. I sent around a short story I was working on whose triggering event was a hog butchering in rural Appalachia. I described the event, but didn’t devote pages and pages to it. The critique friend wrote back saying she thought it was awful, and why would I even want to write something like that anyway? I think she actually used the word “sick” (she clearly did not read Stephen King, much less Thomas Harris). It taught me that you truly do need to work only with those who like the kind of thing you write. Otherwise they can’t see past the topic to the prose or structure.

    Reply
  40. A critique group can be a mind-stretching experience. I have the distinct honor and great privilege to be a part of the group a certain Word Wenches Whip belongs to. Each member represents a different genre (except non-fiction-newsletter-column-writing me: I merely get the fun of watching their stories evolve.) We bring diverse viewpoints to bear on the manuscripts we review. Our written evaluations prepared before the meetings are the basis the critique sessions. The comments from several reviewers often point to an issue that needs clarification. Frequently, the discussions provide a synergistic (or is that ballistic?) effect. A whole new possibility may be revealed or it may be obvious that five independent readers have completely misunderstood the intended point.
    A wonderful feature of our–any–group is that the comments may be used by the recipient however they wish. Suggestions may not fit within genre guidelines. They may demolish a carefully constructed plot plan. They may absolutely not match the author’s vision. On the other hand, suggestions frequently hint at ways to make a character more believable, a situation more probable, or passage more readable. We usually discover when reading the next draft that some of our comments have contributed to a new, improved version.
    I had the good fortune to meet these fellow authors years ago in a writing class at a local community college which was great place to discover all about giving (and receiving) criticism. It was an important place for me to polish basic skills and discover folks with a common interest. Writing can be a very interior process. A simpatico group is an invaluable resource, a good reality check, and an extended family that keeps you connected to the exterior world

    Reply
  41. A critique group can be a mind-stretching experience. I have the distinct honor and great privilege to be a part of the group a certain Word Wenches Whip belongs to. Each member represents a different genre (except non-fiction-newsletter-column-writing me: I merely get the fun of watching their stories evolve.) We bring diverse viewpoints to bear on the manuscripts we review. Our written evaluations prepared before the meetings are the basis the critique sessions. The comments from several reviewers often point to an issue that needs clarification. Frequently, the discussions provide a synergistic (or is that ballistic?) effect. A whole new possibility may be revealed or it may be obvious that five independent readers have completely misunderstood the intended point.
    A wonderful feature of our–any–group is that the comments may be used by the recipient however they wish. Suggestions may not fit within genre guidelines. They may demolish a carefully constructed plot plan. They may absolutely not match the author’s vision. On the other hand, suggestions frequently hint at ways to make a character more believable, a situation more probable, or passage more readable. We usually discover when reading the next draft that some of our comments have contributed to a new, improved version.
    I had the good fortune to meet these fellow authors years ago in a writing class at a local community college which was great place to discover all about giving (and receiving) criticism. It was an important place for me to polish basic skills and discover folks with a common interest. Writing can be a very interior process. A simpatico group is an invaluable resource, a good reality check, and an extended family that keeps you connected to the exterior world

    Reply
  42. A critique group can be a mind-stretching experience. I have the distinct honor and great privilege to be a part of the group a certain Word Wenches Whip belongs to. Each member represents a different genre (except non-fiction-newsletter-column-writing me: I merely get the fun of watching their stories evolve.) We bring diverse viewpoints to bear on the manuscripts we review. Our written evaluations prepared before the meetings are the basis the critique sessions. The comments from several reviewers often point to an issue that needs clarification. Frequently, the discussions provide a synergistic (or is that ballistic?) effect. A whole new possibility may be revealed or it may be obvious that five independent readers have completely misunderstood the intended point.
    A wonderful feature of our–any–group is that the comments may be used by the recipient however they wish. Suggestions may not fit within genre guidelines. They may demolish a carefully constructed plot plan. They may absolutely not match the author’s vision. On the other hand, suggestions frequently hint at ways to make a character more believable, a situation more probable, or passage more readable. We usually discover when reading the next draft that some of our comments have contributed to a new, improved version.
    I had the good fortune to meet these fellow authors years ago in a writing class at a local community college which was great place to discover all about giving (and receiving) criticism. It was an important place for me to polish basic skills and discover folks with a common interest. Writing can be a very interior process. A simpatico group is an invaluable resource, a good reality check, and an extended family that keeps you connected to the exterior world

    Reply
  43. Wow, I think I want to be a part of Bob and the Whipster’s critiquing group! It sounds as much like a brainstorming session as a critiquing session, and I think that might be just the right approach. Instead of saying “this doesn’t work,” you turn it around to say, “what if you do this?” And then the fun begins!

    Reply
  44. Wow, I think I want to be a part of Bob and the Whipster’s critiquing group! It sounds as much like a brainstorming session as a critiquing session, and I think that might be just the right approach. Instead of saying “this doesn’t work,” you turn it around to say, “what if you do this?” And then the fun begins!

    Reply
  45. Wow, I think I want to be a part of Bob and the Whipster’s critiquing group! It sounds as much like a brainstorming session as a critiquing session, and I think that might be just the right approach. Instead of saying “this doesn’t work,” you turn it around to say, “what if you do this?” And then the fun begins!

    Reply

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