Recently I read a tweet that kind of shocked me. It went something like: Writers, when you finish writing something you love, what makes you go back and make changes?
My response to this was: The second time I read it. (Or the third or the fourth.)
I got this message back: So it's not as good when you read through it again?
To which I answered: If can't find problems with your writing, you need a critique group.
I think a lot of writers write in a box, they think what they've written is perfect and wonderful and then they ask their spouse, parent, sister, and/or friends to read their work and then say, "Tell me what you think. Honestly."
The response is usually like, "It was good, I liked it. (My sister and I have a running joke about this.)
The point is, your friends and family are usually not going to be able to tell you what's good or bad. They probably love you too much to tell you the truth, they may not know, or they may just not get it.
For me, my early feedback people were my husband, my sister (also a writer) and my sister-in-law, a published author with an MFA from Vermont college. Between the sister and the sister-in-law I thought I had pretty good critiquers. And I did, but they were still family. Finally after reading draft after draft of my writing and really needing to spend time on her own stuff, my sister-in-law said, "Get thee to a critique group."
So I did.
I joined Val, Sarah, Blessy, Michele, and Joan in a group called In My Opinion Issaquah. Somehow the planets aligned and I ended up in the perfect group for me. (Even though Michele and Sarah deserted us to go on their own adventures in Costa Rica and Africa respectively.)
As perfect as it is, it takes me over an hour to get to our meeting place, I've shed more than a few tears during our critiques, some days I have left swearing that I will never come back, and most of the time I wonder if I'm helping these ladies anywhere near as much as they're helping me.
But I keep going back.
For me my critique group is both book therapy and group therapy. Every writer knows, when you write you aren't just making up a story, you're leaving a piece of yourself on the page. Sometimes it's painful to bring up the memories that inspired your character. Sometimes you need to talk about what brought about the story. Sometimes you just need to talk about how crazy and heart-wrenching this industry can be with someone who gets it. Sometimes you need to be pushed to keep writing. Sometimes you need to be told to reach deeper into your story. And as painful as it is, sometimes you need to be told that the perfect story you've written, isn't perfect.
Because you're going to hear that at EVERY SINGLE STAGE YOU REACH AS AN AUTHOR. Hearing it from a group of people who are just as nervous about what you think of their work is the best way I know to prepare yourself for the inevitable REJECTIONS you WILL receive as a writer. Every critique, whether I agree with it or not, helps my story and/or helps me personally and as a writer.
I shudder to think what would have happened if I hadn't been in a critique group before I received my first edit letter. I would have probably been reduced to a quivering pile of Jello and quit on the spot. But, because I was used to helpful and even painful critiques of my work I could take what my editor said and know that it would make my story better. I also knew I could push back and say, "But what about this?"
Of course, I'm positive I wouldn't have reached the point where I would ever get an edit letter without my critique group.
For every writer out there who thinks their work is perfect. (And everyone who knows it's not.) I'm going to pass along my sister-in-law's advice,
GET THEE TO A CRITIQUE GROUP
Whether it's on-line or in person, find someone who is willing to spend time with your writing in exchange for you spending time with theirs. If the first group doesn't click, try another one. (But make sure the fit isn't bad because you aren't willing to hear what's wrong with you writing.)
To give you a taste of what a critique group is like, I'll be offering up my own. My wonderful critique partners have agreed to be part of a blog contest. Stay tuned. Next week I will introduce my critique partners and let you know how to enter our contest. The winner will receive a critique from all of our members and something to yummy to drink at Starbucks. Details to follow next Wednesday.
In the meantime, what do you think about a critique group? If you belong to one, tell me about it.