Our writers group has been having discussions on how to structure critiques to best suite everyones needs. The article, The Art and Necessity of Critique by Hilari Bell, got passed around. Some of us agree whole heartedly while others of us disagree. Author Jax Daniels shares her thoughts. Tell us yours this month in the comments below and be eligible to win a Kindle version of The Dead Man’s Deal.
I’ve been a member of a Leasspell for over 15 years now. Way back then, it was a small threesome, and we gathered around my dining room table, swapping chapters, eating, chatting, and brainstorming. It was a very “tactile” approach to bettering your works. The commenters sat across from you. You could look them in the eye, you could ask for clarification, and you could argue your point!
Nowadays, we’ve expanded, and have members all over the world. So sitting in the same room means using Google Hangout and a moderator, so everyone has equal air time.
Needless to say, we don’t do that very often. We typically use Google Drive: someone uploads a couple of chapters, and the rest of us take two weeks to read and comment. Yes, it’s more sterile, and yes, it’s a slow process. But so is diamond mining—worthwhile doing for the occasional gem you get.
I have gone on record attributing any success I’ve had as a writer to my group. But it’s not for everyone. I was told once that there is no such thing as “constructive criticism”; only feedback. That’s what you’ll get, and lots of it. How you use it is up to you.
A writer’s group isn’t a cheer leading squad, routing for your every word, and whooping for your unique ideas. It’s a tool. Nothing more.
You wrote a book. You want someone to read it. You want someone to tell you the idea is sound. That’s not what the writer’s group is for. That’s what a husband/wife is for (okay, some call them beta-readers, but we know the truth).
The real problem with writer’s groups is they are people. People have ideas. And these ideas aren’t always the same as yours, or even each other’s. Some people think you should use more onomatopoeia, and some people hate that. Some people like alliteration, and some people hate that. Consider then if you write, “Sally sickeningly smiled at the blade as it hit its mark with a satisfying thwack,” you’re liable to get two people hating it, for completely different reasons. It’s your work; it’s your decision. Maybe you hadn’t realized that you used too much alliteration and this was a good reminder. Or maybe you really like the sentence as it stands. That’s your choice.
Writer’s group are sounding boards. They are readers. And if you’re in a good one, odds are few people on the planet want you to succeed more than them.
You’ll get a few “I hate whatevers” in the group, and you know that and ignore it. But if everyone in the group told you, “it’s too wordy, and you need to get to the point,” then odds are it’s too wordy, and you need to get to the point.
“But,” I hear you ask, “fixing that sentence isn’t fixing my world. That’s what I need! I need to know if this is working.”
Are you sure? You’ve read many stories that failed to have a beginning, or a middle, or an end, and it didn’t matter to you. The writing is what kept you going, kept you turning the page. If there were typos, if there were terrible, flat characters, or if it was hard to read, it could be the most engaging quest imaginable, and you wouldn’t care. You’d set it aside and wait for the movie.
Writer’s groups aren’t supposed to help your creative process. They’re supposed to help you iron out the rough patches and preen your point of view. They are combs to help you untangle your words and ideas.
“I don’t have that kind of time,” I hear you say. “I need immediate feedback.” This is a tool. Like any tool, rushing its use will yield shoddy and sloppy work. Your fellow writers would like that too, having everyone read the entire book. There’s only so much time we all can spend writing and reading and commenting and re-writing.
It’s hard to hear criticism, especially regarding something you love. Writer’s groups are a way to hone the writing skill. They aren’t supposed to simply read your work, they’re supposed to make you a better writer.
And I firmly believe, there is always room for improvement.
DON’T FORGET: Leave a comment this month on any blog on Leasspell and win The Dead Man’s Deal for your Kindle.
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