It’s been a while since I’ve stood on my soapbox and touted the benefits of joining a critique group, and I’m experiencing a huge wave of gratitude for mine—the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Southwest Plaza group. Talk about a bunch of enlightening, ego-bashing, brilliant-minded writers. They’ve praised me, scolded me, dragged me through the mud, offered sound advice, and pasted gold stars to my forehead. I love them, love them, love them…even when I hate them.
If you don’t belong to a critique group, for heaven’s sake, join one. If it’s a good one, you’ll leave the sessions feeling satisfied. And frustrated. And educated. And dumb. And ready to quit. And ready to succeed. Aside from having children, it just might be the most fulfilling and valuable love/hate relationship you’ll ever have.
If you already belong to a critique group and you’re not being enlightened and bashed to bits, one of the following things may be happening:
1. You’re perfect, your writing is perfect, there’s no way in hell you could possibly make it any better, and agents are begging to work with you.
2. Your group is not a good match for your needs.
3. You’re not open to constructive criticism.
Getting good critique should be like going to a good potluck—everyone brings something unique to share. Delicious opinions galore! And regardless of how things look or smell, they should all be tasted. Some dishes are pre-packaged, some are fresh, certain bites won’t agree with you, and others will have you going back for seconds. The important thing is to fill your plate. Try it all in your mind’s eye. And don’t be afraid to get another opinion from someone you trust. “Does this taste right to you?”
As you sort through all these tasty bites, hang onto the ones that improve your work and discard those that do not. One person might say, “You should trim this scene,” and the next will say, “No way, you should build on it.” You know your story better than anyone. Use your common sense. Play with both and see what sounds best to you.
A wise fellow-critiquer told me to trust myself. My first thought? Uh, if I trusted myself, I wouldn’t be asking for everyone’s help. Honestly, dude… Then I realized he was referring to the rewrites. Once you pick the finest tidbits of advice from your plate, rewrite your recipe and read it aloud to yourself. If it sounds like chocolate, tastes like chocolate, and feels like chocolate, it’s probably awesome and delicious. If it doesn’t, walk away from it. Let it age. Then try again.
Thanks to my band of critiquing peeps, I’ve shaved 25,000 words from my bloated manuscript. It’s tighter, cleaner, and I don’t get near as many heavy sighs when I read it aloud. I have 75 pages left to rewrite…with their valuable assistance, of course. Then I’ll try a new recipe on them.
And it better taste like $#@%-ing chocolate.