By R.J. Harlick
Are you in a critique group? Pros? Cons? If not, how do you get feedback on your writing?
When I started out on this writing adventure I knew I would need other eyes to assess my work before I sent my book off to an agent or a publisher. Like many new writers I was convinced my hard fought words had the makings of the next best seller. I just wanted someone to tell me that. So I passed chapters out to friends and family, none of them writers. Some did tell me it was good, but I ended up not believing them. I realized it was more a case of them not wanting to hurt my feelings because deep down inside I knew it wasn’t very good. Those who were more forthcoming were only able tell me what they liked or didn’t like. They couldn’t tell me why. I realized it was the why I needed to know if I was to improve my writing.
Shortly thereafter I joined a writers association and before long found myself becoming a member of a critique group of fellow writers. We met monthly with each of us bringing a chapter or two of our novel in progress or a short story for critiquing. I tell you, this critique group proved its worth many times over. I might not have always liked what my fellow writers had to say about my writing, but without their constructive criticism my writing never would have improved. It’s also likely that my first book never would have improved enough to be published.
I put the success of this critique group down to several things. We were small, only four, so could easily handle works by all of us in a single session. We were all committed enough with our writing to be able to offer something for critiquing at pretty well every meeting. We were all at the same level in our writing careers, the beginning. We had learned enough about creative writing and the writing process to offer useful criticism and advice. We had a tacit understanding of offering good news along with the bad and not being overly critical. We also endeavoured to make our criticisms constructive not destructive. No one ever went home in tears. We were also all mystery writers, so were able to offer advice pertinent to the genre.
I think we probably met fairly regularly for about seven years. But as some of us became published while others didn’t, we gradually grew apart. By the time I finished writing my third book, I knew the monthly, piecemeal format no longer worked for me. I wanted the critique to be done on the entire book not a chapter at a time.
At no time, though, did I consider giving up this critiquing step. I am one of those writers who can’t see the book for the words, so I need the critiques of others to get me looking objectively at my writing.
The critiquing approach I now follow is having the critique done on a revised first draft by two to four fellow authors who are published. I incorporate their comments along with my own into the revisions to produce the third draft, which is the draft the publisher receives. This approach has worked very well for me and as long as I don’t find myself in time constraints with my publisher I will continue to follow it.
What about you? What has your experience been with a critiquing group?