Part II of my joining groups post:
Recently I’ve read blog posts and comments from writers who’ve had bad experiences with critique groups, including this one here. I just thought I’d share the other side of the experience. I’ve been in the same critique group more years than I like to think about, and I wouldn’t be a writer without them.
That said, here are my reasons for happily sticking with them:
I’ve become a better writer for critiquing the work of other people. Part of my day job is editing newspaper and magazine copy, not books. By thinking about what works and what doesn’t work and why as I read other people’s fiction, I learn to recognize those same things in my own writing.
They are all good at different things.
Carol can see the big picture. She moves sentences, paragraphs or even whole scenes around so that they make more sense or build more suspense than the way I had them.
Cindy, with her eye for detail, catches little mistakes, like if a car changes color or make from one page to the next, or if I use the same word too many times over a couple of pages or in a scene.
Jan’s background is business writing, she’s even taught it. There ain’t a grammar or punctuation rule she don’t know, and breaking one guarantees a mark from her blue pen. If it’s a rule broken on purpose, she’s OK with that. (For example, when setting a mystery in the Deep South, sometimes you have folks who say “ain’t” and “don’t.” See previous sentence but one. Bless her poor little Yankee heart, she finally got to where she could live with seeing the word “ain’t” without circling it.)
Kathy, whom I think of as the vampire in the group, likes to suck out anything extra—words, phrases, entire pages of dialog. Nothing is sacred when her red pen bleeds over the page.
They are all professionals and behave as professionals. They recognize that the words are mine. They don’t try to change my “voice.” (A real challenge for a bunch of Yankees who were forced to read a manuscript called “Redneck Tarot,” not once, but several times. Actually, they taught me a lot about phrases and behavior that I thought was universal, but learned needed to be explained.)
We are all happy for each other’s professional (and personal) successes, whether it’s finding an agent, getting that grant-writing job or having a poem published. Again, it’s a matter of being professional about what we do.
We have become great friends. We have seen each other through divorce, illness, the death of one of our members, and the deaths of parents and children. But we’ve also enjoyed the good times: Christmas dinners, pictures and stories of trips to Italy, pride in each other’s accomplishments.
I recently got a real-live New York agent to represent “Redneck Tarot.” I couldn’t have done it without my patient, kind, smart, professional friends in the group known as the Thursday Night Slashers (except when we meet on Tuesdays). Thanks, y’all!
PS: If you’re interested in a critique group, try professional organizations as a starting point. I’m a member of Sisters in Crime. The other members of my critique group are all members or former members. If mysteries aren’t your thing, look around on the Internet for other professional organizations.