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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Writing Tip: Are You Ready for Critique?

Last week, I wrote a post on critiques.  Since then, a few readers have e-mailed me with questions so I've decided to expand on this topic in a few posts and share what I've gleaned from my experience.  Keep in mind this isn't the absolute word on writing groups or the critique process, but I hope this will help you as you figure out what works best for you.  

Okay.  So.  You've finished your manuscript and are ready to take this to the next level.  Finished, you say?  Yes.  Finished.  Not...you have this great idea.  Not...you've just started.  Not...you want to learn how to write.  If you want other writers to take you seriously, and consider you to be part of their critique group, be committed to your writing and finish something.  Know the basics of good writing.  Know how to plot, how to develop characters, how to tell a story.  After you've joined the writing group, then you can bounce off ideas on your new project.  But, first things first.  Prove to your potential group that you can write and will be a productive member, rather than someone who will need a lot of hand holding.

The critique process isn't for the weak of heart.  I'll be the first to say I find it stressful.  When I work on my manuscripts, it is a labor of love.  I pick them apart, agonize over the right words, focus on emotions, themes and plots.  By the time my critique group gets to read my submission, I'm fairly happy with what I've written.  Until, I have to wait for the feedback.  You know how little kids find even sitting still for five minutes to be torture? Well, this is similar to what I experience when waiting for my awesome critique members to read my submission and comment on it.  But...it is so worth it.  The comments are invaluable in the revision process.  As I've mentioned before, there's nothing like a good critique to help take my writing to the next level.  

So, how do you know if you're mentally ready to hear or read words about your writing? I would suggest you evaluate how you handle suggestions from other people in other areas of your life--whether it be about work, a hobby, etc.  Are you the type of person that will take feedback and turn it into "Let Me Run Out And Get The Champagne, I'm on My Way to Greatness," or are you a "They Just Don't Get Me, I'll Show Them," or are you a "Woe is Me, I'm Never Gonna Make It" type of person?  Or, are you a "Hmmm.  Let Me See What I Can Do With This" type of person? Personally, I believe most people will have all of these reactions at one point or another during the critique process, but the person who will get the most out of all the feedback is the one who will work with the comments--no matter what it is--and handle the critiques with grace. 

To recap, here are the steps I think are important when deciding if you're ready to join a writing critique group.  If you have any other suggestions, feel free to add them in the comments!:
  1. Finish your manuscript.
  2. Understand plot, character development, good storytelling.  Know good writing.
  3. Be mentally prepared to hear the good and helpful comments about your writing.
  4. Know how to be graceful when a critique member offers helpful suggestions about your work you may not like or agree with.

Tomorrow, I'll discuss tips to help you find the right critique group.  

3 comments:

Christine M said...

Great post! I'd just like to add that it's important to remember when joining a critique group - that the critique process is a two-way street. As much effort and attention that you want someone to give your manuscript - you need to be able and willing to do the same for everyone else.

PJ Hoover said...

Love the post, Vivian, and especially the part about not just having an idea. Finish something.
And ditto on what Chris said!

beckylevine said...

Vivian,

I'm reading this series of yours on crit groups with huge interest. I've been thinking a lot about the subject lately, and I love what you're saying.

I think there are lots of writers who may be thinking about joining a crit group before they've finished a project--a good group can be a great motivator for that finishing part. In a group of writers/critiquers who are at that same starting point, a good group itself can almost take on the learning curve together. I learn more about writing from my crit group than I do from most classes or books.