Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Why did YOU join a crit group?

I'm a big fan of crit groups for writing. I strongly encourage writers of all ability levels to belong to one. However, it needs to be the RIGHT one.

My group is awesome! We're a collection of writers at a variety of stages in the process, all with the goal of eventual traditional publication, all with different strengths and weaknesses, different areas of expertise, and different preferences and backgrounds. For example, we have a pair of teachers, several with extensive knowledge of the sciences, a former member of the military, an engineer, and so forth. My contribution tends to be character development and grammar/punctuation, another's is choreography and plot holes, and another is finding errors in our science/engineering elements (many of us write science fiction). None of us are afraid to tell each other where the problems in our writing lie, and though we will sometimes "negotiate" for our points, we all take criticism very well.

But we weren't always that way. We had to build the group to this level. We had to weed out those who weren't serious enough, those who got hurt feelings every time they were critiqued, those who just wanted to be told how awesome they were. Well, actually, they weeded themselves out. It takes about two meetings and one critique for someone to realize he/she isn't ready for our level of feedback and our somewhat fanatical drive towards getting published.

Now anyone can have a rough day, and a harsh critique can really get a person down . . . for a day or two. But the members of my group go home, shake it off, and come back gunning to be better, often with a piece of writing that takes it to the next level.

Which brings me to my title question. Why do some of these people join a crit group in the first place? Crit, meaning critique, meaning there will likely be criticism involved.

Our group president is very up front with new people. We are a serious crit group. We tell it like it is. We try to be polite about it, but if something is wrong with the writing, we will tell you. And if a piece needs to be scrapped and started from scratch because it has fundamental errors at the plot's core or the character's development, even a whole novel you wrote before joining us, we'll tell you that, too. Then we'll make suggestions on how you can fix it.

And people still come, and are shocked when their work isn't perfect the first time they show it to us. Um, if you thought your work was perfect, why did you join a critique group? Why aren't you sending it out to agents and editors? Or did you just jump in to get praise?

I've talked to people from other groups who complain about members who give any negative feedback at all, as this is "discouraging." They don't want to be told they aren't good enough, but if they were good enough right now, they wouldn't need a critique group. That's the point!

And quite frankly, if you can't take constructive criticism from a group of your peers, you are NOT ready to query agents and editors who will care a whole lot less about your feelings and send you enough rejection letters by mail and email that if you printed copies of them all, you could wallpaper your living room. They won't tell you how to get better. They won't say their comments with a smile. Most won't even use your name. They don't have time for that kind of hand-holding.

So the new question becomes, do you want to be published, or do you just want to play at being a writer? Because writers revise and rewrite and start over from scratch even fifty pages in, and consider everyone's opinion and choose the ones that make sense to them to fix. They listen to those farther along the path than they are. Heck, I hang on every word that comes out of my mentors' mouths. I have two friends who are published authors who give me feedback, in addition to my wonderful group, and if they tell me something is wrong, then 99% of the time, there's something wrong. And I try to fix it. Because I want to get better.

That's why I joined a crit group.

9 comments:

Melodie Wright said...

Great post. I'm pretty zealous with my crits and I think it scares off the dabblers a bit. But I figure - why waste my time and yours? I want you to get better and I hope you're tearing my MS apart so I get better. The worst critiques are always the best for me.

Lisa Iriarte said...

Agreed. I love to hear positive feedback as much as anyone, but it's the straightforward, no holds barred criticism that forces me to take a step back from the piece and rethink it.

Sarah Nicolas said...

I love your crit group! I may come back when I get back to MCO! (if y'all will have me)

I've quit groups before because they were all about just patting each other on the back and there wasn't much criticizing going on. It's a waste of my time to go to a group like that. :-(

Lisa Iriarte said...

Hey Sarah, I'm sure everyone would be glad to see you come back! We're getting pretty big now, though, (four new members last night), so if you're coming, let Jan know. I don't know if closing the group is in our future, but it wouldn't surprise me.

Vivi said...

Great post! Totally agree. I've made huge revisions to my ms based on feedback from my group, and gotten rid of some of my "babies." I agree with tough critiques, as long as they're delivered in a professional manner. Strong critiques are very valuable in preparing you for getting that agent. And I'm sorry I haven't been able to meet you yet.

Lisa Iriarte said...

Hi Vivi! Nice to see you here, and sorry we haven't met. I just can't stay up late on Thursdays and be functional on Fridays, though I used to go with the hubby to his writers group meetings.

Yep, professional delivery of a critique is vital. I think a good topic for a writers group meeting would be "How to deliver a difficult critique" especially when new members join. Maybe I'll do a post on that. Hmm. . .

Marlana Antifit said...

Great post, Lisa. :) I have my mother to reassure me how great I am. But her loving words will not a great writer make. Although feedback doesn't need to be provided with sunshine and puppies, what you and Vivi said is key--it's not what you say, but how you say it. I'd love to see a blog "How to Deliver the Difficult Critique" BTW -- I'll buy you a Monsters if you come back by. Miss you! :)

Lisa Iriarte said...

Thanks Marlana. No Monsters for me, though. It's not about making through your meeting so much as being able to get up the next morning. Maybe over Thanksgiving or winter break.

Gayle Swift said...

Excellent post. As a writer I prefer to uncover any weaknesses and flaws within the security of my critique group. This provides the opportunity to distill the learning and improve my writing--in private.I want my best work to hit the presses, entertain my readers and build my reputation as a writer.
An agent or publisher doesn't have the time or inclination to hand-hold my way through the process of maturing to the level of a manuscript wothy of publishing.
Family and friends can provide the emotional boost as they champion a belief in our potential success. All the love and loyalty in the world will not catapult me to publishing. Excellent writing provides that result.
My critique group operates like a trainer at the gym for my writing life.