Yesterday I finally got around to reading the new RWR and the piece on critique groups caught my eye. Interestingly enough, the always wonderful Alison Kent has blogged on this topic today as well.
I don’t have a crit group. I never did. I started writing by myself and I didn’t really know anyone I felt comfortable asking. I didn’t even know about places like Romance Divas or the RWA at that time. So I sort of got imprinted in a solitary way.
And after a time, I had some readers I trusted and asked to do beta reading for me. One of them has been with me since A Touch of Fae, I count her as a friend and I value her opinion greatly – Tracy kicks butt and I’m sooo lucky to have a beta reader like her. Likewise, Renee, reader extraordinare, has done beta for me for the last five or so books and she’s a huge help as well as being a hoot and a wonderful friend. I’ve got other marvelous folks I can email and ask for help who will drop everything to read for me sometimes at the last minute so that’s a big help to me because it’s not so much that I need the help with syntax or grammar, I want to know if readers are getting what I’m trying to say, if the story flows, if the characters have good chemistry, etc. The function of a good beta reader is to tell you, “okay, I really hated her when she did that” and sometimes I ignore that as a personal quirk but usually I give it attention because if you’re lucky as an author, your beta readers are insightful folks who like your writing and your voice so if you do something drastic enough that they comment, you’ve made an error.
Once, one of my beta readers hated Conchobar. Like seriously loathed him. She still hates him to this day and if he’s in any other books she wrinkles her nose at me and complains, LOL. But Con is probably the hero people comment on loving the most. Still, I had to really examine him and his motivations and actions because I trust her opinion so much. But she was wrong and I lurve to tease her about it!
As for critique? I have crit partners that I absolutely trust with my life as well as my words. Megan Hart and Anya Bast have critted many things for me and they’re both very different in the things they see but together, their crit finds everything! I don’t want to be petted on the head, I need to know, flat out, what doesn’t work (not that I don’t love those little comments when they tell me they really loved some bit of dialog or a scene). I’ve brainstormed with both of them when I got stuck as well and they’ve both given me great advice. I find that sort of support and assistance invaluable and I know my proposals go to my agent way better than if I’d just done it myself. A good cp is going to point out things you don’t see because the story is in your head and it all makes sense to you. Repetitive words, stuff you’ve said more than once, things your characters do that don’t make sense with their overall personalities, etc. I know Anya will make me be more descriptive (what does the alley look like?) and Megan will make me cut repetive stuff (of course she stands “up” you can’t stand down)
I do know that I’ve had crit from people I didn’t find helpful. Mainly because I tend to get annoyed quickly by people who take glee in telling me how harsh they are but they’re not effective critters, they’re just getting off on being mean. I want harsh, effective criticism, if I wanted mean, I’d go back to 10th grade. It does nothing but stroke ego and nine times out of ten, those folks can’t handle constructive criticism of their own work.
I have a thick skin. Tell me what works and what doesn’t. I’ll take what I need and reject what I don’t. If people don’t tell you what’s wrong, how can you improve?
I don’t know if crit groups are helpful or not. They wouldn’t have been for me. The process just isn’t one I find useful. But I know many authors who do find them helpful and continue to participate in them long after they’ve been published many years.
I suppose it’s like everything else in this business – you do what works for you. There are so many things out there to utilize and so pick and choose what helps and don’t do what doesn’t.