Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Critique Groups Rock (or Gossip Under the Guise of Progress)

Tip of the Day: Chocolate-covered espresso beans don't count as candy when eaten first thing in the morning; they're more like pills.

My Critique Partners (CPs) rock. They totally helped me get to where I am today in my journey. While I would've kept writing and working towards publication without them, I doubt I'd have an agent right now if they hadn't stuck with me for the past few years.

I know, I know, you all thought I was brilliant on my own. But alas, it takes time and gossip sessions -- I mean critique sessions! -- for me to reach my full writerly potential.

So in what ways have my CPs helped me get to where I am?

1. They provide me with deadlines. When I knew they were waiting for pages from me to critique, I had to send them something or I'd look like a slacker (and when I didn't know them that well at first, I really didn't want them to label me SLACKER!), so I was forced to crank out some new material on a regular basis to send to them.
2. Their own writing is fabulous, and I want to be as good as them. By critting their pages, I was subconsciously shamed into wanting to write something even better. Not a competition between us, but a personal challenge for myself.
3. They give me excellent feedback and ideas. I never realized how questionable some of my scenes were until the fresh eyes of my CPs are on them, and brainstorming with them is worth more than I can say -- and is really fun, too!
4. Critting their work is a lesson on things to watch out for in my own writing. Like when I notice that Tina uses the word "smiles" 139 times her chapter 3, it immediately makes me notice my own overused words (I knew I had a problem with "just" when I found it 235 times in a 200 page manuscript....)
5. Their encouragement and praise is better than chocolate. At times when getting an agent seemed never ending, they kept telling me I had what it takes, and I love them for always believing in me.
6. My local in-person CPs are conveniently close for local writerly events. I know I'm blessed to have the talented Maureen and Kate close by -- without them I'd be going to the Teen Book Fest, Rochester Children's Book Festival, and Upstate NY SCBWI conferences all by myself. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but how much better is it to have another passionate kidlit writer around to share these experiences and boost my writing motivation?
7. My non-local CPs are good for different regional perspective. Like if I talk about Wegmans in my book, they'll be like "What's that?" because I forget that the grocery giant is only in a few states. Plus Em and Tina are a great excuse for a writing retreat road trip!
8. Talking with them keeps me in the writer form of mind. It's easy to lose focus, or to focus on the wrong parts of the writing process, so talking to others with the same goals is super helpful and motivating.

My CPs have made me a better, more focused, and driven a writer. When I signed with my agent, she said one of the reasons she wanted to rep me was my clear willingness to continually improve my craft, take critiques to heart, and keep on learning and striving for something better in my books and myself. It made me feel really good that she recognized that about me, and that my CPs all helped me learn and practice these very things.

If you are on the cusp of signing with an agent and just can't seem to break through, I highly recommend finding some positive but honest CPs. See what they suggest, talk stuff out with them, discuss the market for your book and what agents you should query, and keep going and writing and critting and revising. To find CPs, check out the amazing
Verla Kay chat board or join the SCBWI and log onto their discussion board.

Do you have CPs? Have they helped you on your writing journey?

Deena, Miss Recenlty Repped


Rhonda Helms said...

A good CP makes all the difference in the world...bad ones can not only steer you in the wrong direction, but suck away the joy of writing. I'm so glad you found people who are right for you!!!

DeenaML said...

I feel so fortunate that I have never had a bad CP -- I can imagine how annoying that would be.

Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

Deena, I'm not in a CG, but I totally agree with the value of deadlines, inspiration, and fresh perspectives. But I especially relate to having people to bounce ideas off and let them gel. I tried a CG a few years ago, but the chemistry wasn't right. It was clear right away that it wasn't going to work.

So for now, I'll live vicariously through all of you and let my DH and a very good reader buddy be my critique partners. :)

Kristina Springer said...

Ha ha ha ha about telling all the world my secret with the word "smiles"!! Can I help it if my characters are just extremely happy all the time? Ok, you forgot to mention how there were like 200 of the word "start" in Espressologist. Like, Jane couldn't walk across the room, she had to "start walking". Oh man. Yeah, I would never have known if you guys didn't point this stuff out to me (and I still miss it half the time). But I agree-- yay for CPs! I only have great ones too-- no complaints! I only wish I had in-person ones too.

Kate Fall said...

What a great list! The deadline thing is huge for me. There's no way I would've finished my last chapter by now if I didn't know my online crit group was waiting for it. If you're ADD writer like me, crit groups are so good at making you focus.

You all can hardly imagine what Deena had to work with when she met me. Her first suggestion was double spacing my manuscripts. I was like, really, people do that? What a neat idea. :)

DeenaML said...

Mary Ann, that's great that your dh and reader friend work for you. You do have someone, even if they're not writers. No CG is better than a bad one.

Tina, I was being gracious by only mentioning "smiles" and not also "started." :)

Kate, you're VERY lucky you never read my first novel. Only Mo and Melissa did, and bless them for being so kind!

Emily Marshall said...

I agree with all your points, Deena. Excellent list. CP's are really invaluable and I feel lucky to have great and supportive ones:)

They really get you to look at your manuscript in a different light.

Emily Marshall said...

Kate, I don't like to double space my manuscripts at all. Not until they are finished. It's easier for me to write single spaced. I think it's a mind trick. Single spaced = still working. Double spaced = ready to be critiqued.

Sherryl said...

Glad it's not just me who over-uses just! I have to go back and weed them out every time.
My CG is wonderful, too. Every time one of us has a success of some kind (usually publishing) that person has to bring a cake. Our group is really supportive, and fun too.

DeenaML said...

Sherryl, I totally agree - when someone has a success in our CG, it totally energizes and boosts everyone else.