For many years, I essentially wrote in a vacuum. My WIPs were top secret, to be seen by only a select few individuals – and if you dared take a glimpse without permission, you were risking death glares at the least and, at the worst, my own version of Dramatic Alan Rickman flipping tables:
Fortunately for me, and for my writing, I realized about three years ago that I needed to get some feedback if I was ever going to do something with my writing. At first, I figured I needed to just see how the story came across to readers – what they thought of characters, favorite parts of the story, that sort of thing. I attempted to acquire beta readers among trusted friends, but nobody seemed able to follow through, despite their excitement about taking on that sort of project.
My husband read the MS, but only after I used puppy dog eyes and the promise of his favorite baked goods. And to be honest, spousal feedback on your writing isn’t quite the same as getting a true critique.
It’s really worth your time, as a serious writer, to get involved in a critique group or find a critique partner. The value of getting critiques from other writers is huge. Not only do you have an opportunity to get honest, constructive feedback, you also have to flex your own critiquing muscles. And that can absolutely affect your own writing process in a big way.
Writer’s Digest has a great article about what to look for when choosing a critique group, and there are similar considerations when looking for a critique partnership. You have to find a group or partner you can trust, people who have at least an appreciation for your genre if not a more-than-working knowledge of it – let’s face it, a sci-fi writer isn’t going to have the same view of a romance novel as, say, a romance novelist.
This doesn’t mean you can only look for critique partners or groups that deal with the genre you write. It can be helpful, especially if you’re just starting out in a genre. But in general, a person who writes well and critiques well will be able to help you.
Last May, I signed up for an account with Scribophile, an online writing/critiquing community, after one of my sister’s friends made the recommendation. It was an absolute godsend, because at the time I had no connections with the CNY Romance Writers and was unaware of any in-person critique/writer’s groups in my area. It took a couple weeks to get the hang of the site, but once I was “settled”, two really awesome things started happening.
- I made critique friends. These were people whose work I sort of latched onto and followed, and they started following mine. Between exchanging critiques and batting ideas around through private messages, I developed a core group of critique partners who knew my work and gave solid, useful feedback.
- My self-critique skills improved. Because Scribophile works by requiring you to critique other people’s work before you can post your own, I had to develop a critical eye. Now, I’ve always been pretty good at proofreading and copy editing – I had classmates in college who begged me to look over term papers. But the funny, weird, and awesome thing was that, the more I critiqued other people’s stuff, the easier it was to find the mistakes, misunderstandings, and muddled-up gunk in my own MS. My critique partners still manage to find stuff I missed, but that goes with the territory.
That’s the other really important reason why it’s worth your time to find a critique partner or a critique group. Even if you go through and read your MS out loud (which I do sometimes, with accents, and only if nobody else is home), you are still going to miss things. This is because, as the writer of a given WIP, our brains fill in missing words or skip over honest misspellings, because we know what’s supposed to be there. Critique partners, when doing even the most basic task of proofreading, will catch those mistakes, which are the number one reason a MS can come across as being unprofessional and unpolished.
Now, one shouldn’t confuse critique partnerships and editing partnerships. There are people and companies out there who offer proofreading and copy editing services. And whether you’re planning to self-publish or go the traditional route, it’s a service worth looking into. But critique partnerships/groups are something else. Yes, they can catch the mistakes in mechanics and grammar, but a good critique will hone in on plot problems, inaccuracies and fact checking, characterization conflicts, and so on. The meat of your story, if you will.
I’ve gotten a lot from my online critique relationships, but I’m also looking forward to participating in critique at my next CNYRW meeting. I haven’t stepped up to the plate yet, because I’m new and shy and a little self-conscious. But after participating in a round-table brainstorming session at our last meeting, I’m excited to get some feedback.