Thursday, April 7, 2016

Perils of the Writer: Finding Your Critique Group

I think it's crucial, for any writer, to have other sets of eyes go over what they do before sending it out into the world.  Before anything heads out to my agent or my editor, it goes to my beta readers.
Right now, I essentially have two people that I send to, and they are the right two people for me.  That's the most crucial thing: finding your people.  Because you can get all sorts of people to read your works-in-progress, but the question is are they going to give you what you need to make it better?  
At one point, I had a whole critique group, and I've attended large-session groups.  And those are valuable, but their value largely came from teaching me how to read with a critiquing eye, how to give and take critique.  I didn't find them too helpful in terms of the work I was doing myself.  Don't get me wrong, they were good people with good ideas, and they are still friends, but it was more "critique" than I needed.  It was work to sift through, rather than information that would make my work stronger.
Here's the thing: if you give your work in progress to ten random people (random people with some degree of aspiration toward writing fiction, or at least engage with the creative process), you're going to get ten different opinions.  Filtering through those ten opinions to mine what's useful for you is going to be challenging.  Especially since, say, six or seven of those opinions are more going to reflect what those people think your story ought to be rather than helping it be the story you're trying to write.
A good critique partner understands what you're going for, and gives you what you need to make that happen.
Here's the other thing: after a certain point, you shouldn't be looking for critique on a manuscript.  After a point, you're no longer working it, you're fiddling with it, and continually sending to "fresh eyes" doesn't change that.  You either shop it out, or you trunk it.  Or, if you really feel like it's got potential but isn't working, you put it on the backburner and work something else for a while, let it stew.  The point is, whatever problems it has-- or that you imagine it still has*-- won't be solved by giving it to another batch of people to get another set of opinions.  
In the end, you need only one or two, who understand what you're doing, but also know your bad tics enough to call you out on them.  This process might involve going through some large groups, which is a worthwhile process.
*- Constantly having beta readers go over different drafts of the same work is a key symptom of Imposter Syndrome.

1 comment:

Samantha Dunaway Bryant said...

Finding a critique partner or group that works for you is a lot like finding a spouse or partner. It's all so idiosyncratic. What works for me might be a disaster for someone else.

@mirymom1 from
Balancing Act