Sunday, March 7, 2010
I joined a critique group for the first time a few weeks ago. Because I didn't give them advance notice, I was only able to bring three pages (instead of the normal ten emailed to everyone in advance) and they would critique them there. The group consisted of six other women, one of whom read my work aloud while the others followed on the pages I'd given them. They were like, "Wow. That was good. Very, very good." They really didn't have anything to add, except a flourish of compliments, and how excited they were to keep reading my book. I left the place in a state of euphoric astonishment. I bragged to my friends and relatives about how I'd impressed even my colleagues. See, I told myself, I DO have a place in this crazy world of publishing! I felt validated. Sigh. The next session, I was efficient (eager) in emailing them my next ten pages. I received all of their pages as well, and began to critique them (a middle-grade fiction, a YA urban romance, a memoir, and two biographies. Mine is women's fiction, borderline romance) although I felt a little unqualified to do so (and still do, actually). I brought them to the session, and awaited my turn. My turn came first. And they flayed me alive. Oh-my-sweet-goodness. Some of them didn't remember what I had covered in the first three pages, so they nailed me for not properly introducing setting. They didn't like/recognize my sarcasm (who doesn't like sarcasm???). They reaaranged my sentences in a flurry of red ink (or was that the blood of a sacrificed animal?), rude arrows pointing this way and that. I was devastated. My ears were turning red. My skin was getting splotchy. It was like some stranger spanking your child, that's how offended I was. After the critique (execution), I told a few of the above mentioned friends and relatives what these women had done to me. I got the expected sympathetic ear, the appropriate rage from the few who'd read my work. I no longer felt valid. I felt broken. I sat down to read their full critiques. And then something great happened. I found a few of the suggestions were actually good. I did rearrange some of my sentences. And I kept what I wanted to keep. The final product was better. And all this editing advice, this line by line critique, was FREE. All it costs is a thick skin (or one that grows back quickly) and the exchange of your advice for theirs. As a writer, especially a new one, critique groups are invaluable.