|Barbara teaching a writing workshop.|
Last night, a visitor attended our writing critique group for the first time. After the meeting, I asked her what she thought. She said she enjoyed it and would like to visit a few more times, then she added, "It was hard."
Why Is Critiquing Hard?There are many guidelines and techniques in writing, and if you don't know them, your critique may be worthless. I assured this visitor that the first few times I attended the group, the feedback process overwhelmed me. With time, I learned a lot and my writing and feedback to other writers improved.
Who Shouldn't Critique Your Work?It takes time and effort to learn how to critique someone's work. This is why you don't choose your mom, dad, aunt, uncle, cousin, sister, or best friend as a beta reader, unless, of course, the person participates in the writing community and understands the critique process. But don't forget, if you ask your knowledgeable friend or family member to critique your work, they won't do you any favors with a pat on the back and a "You're amazing!" affirmation.
We love those affirmations and want them from our readers, not our critiquers. First, you need a manuscript that will make it into the hands of those readers. Be prepared to let this person tell you what they like about your writing, what doesn't work, and what is wrong with your work.
The first of those three points makes us feel good, but the next two can hurt. Writers need thick skins. It's somewhat of a contradiction because we put our heart and souls, our babies, into our writing. Then, we ask someone to kill our babies.
Where do you find a skilled critiquer?
- Find a critique group that gives constructive feedback. If you want a pat on the back, there are groups that will do that for you, but your writing will not improve. Look for groups that tell you the truth with tact and a willingness to help. Be careful, though. I've met some rude, heartless critiquers in my life. If you leave the group shattered, bloody, and torn that probably isn't the group for you. (If you live in South Carolina, SCWA has several chapters throughout the state.)
- Look for writing classes taught by professionals. Depending on where you live, these may be easy or difficult to locate. If you don't know where to start, ask your local, independent book store. They tend to be more in tune with the local writing community than your larger big box stores but ask the big box stores, too. Another local resource might be the local small college or technical college. Ask if they offer personal development classes.
- Attend writing conferences. A lot of writers shy away from the idea of a conference if they haven't finished writing their manuscript. Balderdash! (Yes, I said balderdash.) If you attend a conference before you complete your work, you will learn some of the techniques you need to use while writing your manuscript. Also, some conferences offer critique slots with an author, agent, or editor. It's worth the time and money to hear their feedback. Those slots fill up fast. Don't wait until the last minute.
- Search for groups online. Most writing groups have an internet presence. If you don't find a local group, look for an online group that fits your needs and genre.
- Scope out the local coffee shop. This might sound strange and feel a bit awkward, but writers hang out in these places, tapping away at their keyboards. If someone is there a good bit, chances are they are a writer and might know of local options for writers.
If your goal is publication, then some day you will need a good critique or two or three. You could ask an editor to help you, but, as an editor, I caution you to clean up your work as much as possible first. Many freelance editors will not devote their time to someone's work that hasn't been critiqued and work-shopped first. If they do agree to edit your work without it going through a critique process, be prepared to pay more.
And, as always, get out there and mingle with other writers. They are your support group.
Do you have a great resource for critiques? Share it in the comments.