When I joined my first formal critique group through the American Christian Fiction Writers I can honestly say my expectations were simple. My manuscript was professionally edited and I’d already spent time rewriting. I was ready to begin sending queries to potential agents. I expected compliments peppered with a few catches of mechanical errors (there are always some lurking around). Boy, was I in for an awakening.
The first critique of my opening chapter was kind. It was complimentary. It was also wildly honest about my overuse of passive voice, the many instances I did too much telling and not enough showing, inconsistency of POV, holes in characterization, and those pesky mechanical errors. That critique left an oozing, gaping wound in my writer ego. I was bleeding and exposed on a writers’ forum inhabited by experienced authors ready to pick each and every sentence apart.
It took hours for the lump in my throat to subside. But it did subside. With every critique there was more kindness, compliments, and yes, wild honesty. I spent several weeks on this critique forum before breaking off into a small, four-person group of other women authors working in a similar genre. It is more intimate. We’re beginning to forge friendships, which I believe will be lasting. Through all of the critiques I’ve learned some invaluable lessons in writing and – at risk of sounding dramatic – life. I’d like to share some of these lessons with you.
- Other writers want you to be a better writer. It’s not a competition. It’s not meant to tear you down. The writing community is a fiercely supportive one. I truly believe your fellow authors want to see you reach your highest potential on the page. So, trust their suggestions.
- Your writing can be better. Even if, like me, you’ve had a professional read over your manuscript and given you helpful notes, there is always room for improvement. Don’t be too proud. Chances are, you can be more concise, find more descriptive words, improve the tension. Look at the notes from your critiques and get to work!
- It’s okay to trust your instinct. This might sound contradictory to the above, but there are times your instinct should override another author’s suggestion. Sometimes rules are meant to be broken. A critiquing author does not have the same vision for your story as you do. After carefully considering notes you’ve received, do what your gut tells you and trust your instinct.
- You can’t edit your own writing. My undergraduate degree is in professional writing and my graduate degree is in editing/publishing. For real. And, I still have glaring (sometimes cringe-worthy) errors in my writing. If you are an experienced author, accomplished student of the craft, or self-proclaimed grammar snob, hear me…YOU STILL NEED HELP. A critique group can help be your eyes once you’ve become blind to your own writing. It can happen. It will happen. It’s okay to ask for help.
- Writing doesn’t have to be lonely. Writing is not customarily a group activity. Chances are, you write in solitary at your desk, at a coffee shop wearing headphones, in the least inhabited corner of the library. The quiet and seclusion is certainly necessary to get the story on the page/screen. It can be very easy to get lost in the solitary work. Joining a critique group has allowed me to share the experience with others who “get it.” I’m blessed to have a husband and family who support me in my writing endeavors. But they don’t necessarily “get it.” Your fellow authors do. They get how consuming it can be to find just the right word. They understand the tediousness of rewriting a paragraph eight times. They don’t think you’re crazy when you cry while writing an emotional scene. You don’t have to be a lonely writer!
What would you add to these five? Comment below and let’s keep the discussion going.