Oh, where to begin? I’m a big believer in writer’s groups. I think a lot of writers are. If you’re not in a writer’s group, you should at least have a critique partner and/or a beta reader looking over everything before you send it out. The idea of sending something out without someone else looking at it sends a Deliverance-style river of sweat down the back of my neck, complete with accompanying banjos.
1) Wouldn’t you rather have a select group of people you know (or are getting to know if it’s a new group) commenting on it privately before you end up with lots of anonymous comments from strangers on the internet?
Boy oh boy would I. I spent a number of years with a group of dedicated writers who also became friends over dinner, meetings, frustrations, and celebrations of each others’ successes and commiserations over each others’ failures. I’m not with that group anymore, due in large part to me moving almost an hour’s drive away from them (gas prices making it impossible to continue meeting as I was with them).
We ended up with our own lexicon, laughs we’d shared when we’d caught some writing foible someone had inadvertently committed, inside jokes we all were in on, and ended up with friendships of people we trusted to see the inner workings of our brains before we unleashed our own personal brand of crazy on the world.
First thing I did when I moved…started looking for a closer group. And I’ve found one. They’re priceless.
I’d much rather have someone like this hack and slash my work when it’s still rough than a stranger I don’t know yet. It’s a trust thing.
2) You never know what you might learn from another writer.
In the group I used to be in, as well as in the group I’m in now, members all go to different workshops, conferences, bookseller’s meetings, library associations, and classes. Everyone picks up something and brings it back to the group to share. I’ve learned something at just about every single conference I’ve been at. Even if it’s “don’t waste your money on that conference”, you always learn something to share with the others (I’ve only been to one that I’d say that about, but I was horrified at the wrong information that they were giving writers who didn’t seem to understand just how bad it was….needless to say, my first comments about it to my writing group was that they should NEVER attend that conference.)
I also have beta readers. One of them tipped me off to a contest that turned into my first paid writing credit. You share all kinds of information…and you never know who might share something that fits you, or when you might see something that could help someone else.
3) It keeps you moving forward by giving you a deadline.
People have a stake in giving you feedback when they’re also getting feedback from you. Hence the idea of a partner or a group; it keeps you working, writing to meet a deadline. Even today, I’m doing the…I’ve got a meeting tomorrow and have been wrapped up in release details for a couple of different things…better get something written tonight mindset.
4) It’s not the same as getting feedback from your mom, sister, uncle, or best friend.
Face it, your mom is supposed to like your stuff. Your mom is your biggest cheerleader. Ditto your sister, your uncle, your best friend, or your spouse or significant other.
On its own, cheerleading doesn’t help me get to a finished project. The copious notes and edits I did with my writer’s group helped me get it to where it needed to be, where someone could help me look for typos and grammatical mistakes.
But Mom’s not someone who is prepared to rip apart her daughter’s work. Most moms aren’t. Why put your mom in that position? That’s not fair to her. It’s not fair to you. And it doesn’t help you be a better writer.
What makes us better is marking up with the proverbial red pen. I’ve said more than once to crit groups…”make it bleed” with red ink. Because that’s how you find the weaknesses. That’s how you spot the minor tweaks and the major plot errors.
And after you clean it all up and have a finished product, it’s all worth it. That’s when you get to hand it, proudly, to your mother, and say, “Look, Ma, what I did!”
5) Writers groups and crit partners help you get ready for what edits will be like when and if you ever sell the darn thing.
I know, I know. You’ve been through edits yourself. You’ve been through workshops and critiques. You’ve rewritten and edited and plotted and changed and futzed and hem-hawed through the whole thing a million times. You’re almost sick of your own story you’ve been through it so much.
You’ll go through it again when you sell it. At least a couple of times. There’s edits. There may be more than one round. There’s copyedits. There’s galleys. And there may be ARCs and other release versions to look at.
It amazes me when an editor asks if I’m open to making changes. Because I expect that there will be edits and changes.
Chuck Wendig gave an interview on the I Should Be Writing podcast, where he said he approaches editors like Fight Club. In other words, he wants them to (figuratively) hit him as hard as they can in the interest of making it all as good as it can be. I agree 100% with this approach. I feel the same way.
I can’t fix it until and unless I know what’s wrong. If my critique partners pull their punches, I don’t know if my work can stand up to an in-depth edit. I look at editing and critique groups as a way to learn more…more about myself as a writer, more about the plot and the storyline, more about the characters, and more about the craft of writing. It’s an opportunity. It’s not personal. It’s about making the book or the story the best it can be.
And learning to take editing notes starts with a good, trusted critique group.
NEXT TIME….how to find a critique group.