Wow, it's different doing the blog during the week instead of on Sunday! No one has their week of blog posts up for me to review and link to. The week-in-round-up posts aren't there. No one's screaming more than usual about the e-book v. hard copy version price war. What to do, what to do? Well, actually they are, but I'll touch on that Sunday.
So, with your indulgence, I'd like to venture once again into the always explosive topic of writers groups. More specifically, critique groups and the good and bad that can come from them.
Right now, I'll admit I've written, deleted and rewritten this post at least three times. Part of the reason is I'm still trying to get enough coffee flowing through my veins so my brain can work. Another part is because, as I said, this can be such an explosive topic. Finally, because it is very easy to get academic on this topic in order to keep from stepping on toes. Well, here's fair warning to those of you currently barefoot or in sandals -- hide your toes because here I come.
I've written about critique groups before. In that post I discussed the rules successful critique groups should follow and linked to some very good posts on the subject.
Today, I'd like to talk about another aspect of critique groups. And I'll admit this is partially brought on by Dave's post yesterday about working through real life issues and how they impact your writing. As a relatively new writer, I rely on my critique groups to help point out when I'm letting real life impact my work -- especially when it does so in a negative way. I'm not disciplined enough yet to always see it myself and the group setting allows me to see what others see in my work and then talk out possible solutions. Both of the groups I belong to are excellent for this and I appreciate their help more with each day that passes.
But there is a downside to critique groups, one I'd done my best to forget about until recently when a friend of mine asked me to read something they'd* written. This was the first time this person had shared anything with anyone for years. Which is a real shame because this person happens to be very talented. But, like so many writers I know, when it comes to their own writing, there is little confidence.
So, you ask, why had this person been hiding their work under the bed? Very simply, just as with me in my first group, they'd been torn down one too many times by someone else, someone who represented themselves as the expert. They'd been told what they were writing made no sense, wasn't worthy of submitting, was badly written... Well, you know the litany.
Hearing all that, I flashed back to my first group and my feelings of utter defeat. Our so-called expert expected us to write just like her. She gave revenge critiques if we didn't all just adore her submissions. And no one, ever, would be as good as she was. She crushed all of us down, just as my friend had been crushed by their critique group. How many other aspiring writers have faced the same situation?
A critique group should, in my opinion, serve several purposes. It should assist us in becoming better writers. It is a chance to socialize with others who share similar interests. Even some online critique groups have figured this out and have started chats and message boards for that purpose. These groups -- or even just critique partners -- aren't there to serve solely as ego boosters or as a platform to prove you're the best. Finally, a critique group is a chance to network. It is surprising the information you can get from a group. That writer sitting next to you might be a lawyer or a cop or a rocket scientist, a mother or a teacher or a doctor. They have knowledge that might help you make a character more believable. And, if they don't, they might know someone who does and be willing to make an introduction.
So what are your thoughts on critique groups and partners? Advice or warnings? Horror stories or success stories?
* Yes, I know I'm violating any number of grammar laws with my pronoun use here and later. But I am doing it to preserve the anonymity of my friend who reads this blog and would run and hide if they thought I was writing about them. All I can say is this person doesn't belong to the Bar, so the two of you who have been holding your breath can breathe now.