Friday, October 4, 2013

To Critique...Or Not To Critique...That Is The Question!

Oh, hey, look! New photo!

And the answer is…to critique!  Okay, that was super cheesy. Sorry about that. But I’m a huge fan of critiquing when you are a writer. And by ‘huge fan,’ I mean I couldn’t write books without it.

When I first started out writing, in my 30’s, when I was finally ready to give it a shot (yes, I’m a late bloomer), I sought out my local Romance Writers of America chapter and decided to go to the first meeting.
Our chapter was and still is tiny. Only maybe 12 people.  

So the decision was made years ago to make it a monthly critique group. Meeting at a local house that is a museum, the group sits around a table and we have a reader – someone who reads your pages aloud while everyone follows along on a printed copy.

We had a couple of rules – 10 page maximum, 1 inch margins, 12pt. font double spaced. It may sound strict, but when you’re reading 6-8 people in one night – it’s easier on the eyes. While the reader read, we took notes on the print outs in front of us. When it was done, we commented.

It was invaluable. I learned so much from this process. I met people from bigger chapters at the national RWA conferences and actually felt sorry for them that they didn’t have this.

Having it read out loud helped because then I caught awkward dialogue.  People commented on the big stuff, but I could always find the grammar errors on the pages handed back to me at the end. People caught continuity issues, grammar and spelling errors, clunky dialogue and much much more.

We had 2 members of the group who had been published by the Big 6 for more than 20 years. They had a number of RITAS between them and had been critique partners with each other since they started out.  I felt like I was cavorting with the gods.

When I sold my first novel to New York, however, things changed. The group started to get bigger. And I found I wasn’t getting much feedback anymore from the writers who weren’t published. The consensus was that now I had a publisher and editor – what did I need them for?  It became a huge problem for me.

And the group got bigger. Everyone bringing ten pages, now meant we’d be there all night. The new president decided to create a rotation chart – with only six people being read each month. It was fair, and I understood that. But now I had deadlines and with the new rule, I might go two or three months without any critique.

About this time, the two professional novelists in the group pulled me aside. They wanted to know if I wanted to meet weekly with them. They needed more feedback and regularly and figured I did to.
We tried to do both groups for a while, but frankly, we ended up not going back to the RWA chapter. It was too much, and I think we all felt a little sad about that.

The three of us met every Thursday night at the local library – and we added a fourth author who writes YA and brings a lot of good, healthy critiquing to the table. We’ve changed the time and day of the week over time, but since 2007, we’ve been meeting regularly. And it has been one of the best things to happen to me as a writer.

We all write different things. We all have different strengths. And we all benefit from each other’s input. These people saved my career more than once. Their input on my work has been invaluable from the, “That was the funniest scene I’ve ever read!” to “I think you should rewrite that whole chapter – it isn’t working.” In fact, the stuff like the latter comment has been the most valuable (although I’d love to hear the first one…well…constantly).

What it all boils down to is, I couldn’t do this job without having other writers look over what I’m doing. They’ve made me a better writer and I hope, in some small way, I’ve helped them too.


  1. I've been in good and bad critique groups. When they work, they're wonderful. When they don't, they can undermine a writer's confidence. I was in one where our singular rule was to check our egos at the door. This worked until one night one member had a meltdown and called me all sorts of names. Tears, shouting, bullying. I left in the middle of the tantrum and never went back. Now, I'm searching for a group like yours where published authors like me can tear into manuscripts. I'll keep looking until I find the right group -- or start one.

  2. I really lucked into it Lauren! They are fabulous!