Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Spank me and tell me I'm bad!

Yesterday, Molly mentioned her critique group which started me thinking about the whole critique group thing.

I have been flying solo for quite a few years. I had a critique group back in 2002 to 2004 (or maybe a little past). We kind of fell apart after two of our members moved to other towns. By that time, there were only two of us actively writing anyway and the other person was writing personal essays. I was a little uncomfortable when it started turning into The Eileen Show.

Anyway, they were terrific in a lot of ways. Great sounding boards for ideas and directions. Excellent copy-editors. None of them, however, were writing popular fiction and didn't really know a lot about the romance genre. By the time we disbanded, I was a little relieved although I missed them.

A few months ago, a group of writers from my local RWA chapter asked me to join their critique group. I said yes mainly because I liked the people. They're a very smart, funny, sassy group of women and I find it hard to resist a chance to hang out with smart, funny, sassy women. I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to be in a critique group, though. A lot of times, I don't finish things until they need to be turned in. There's no time for critiquing. Plus, I wasn't sure I wanted anyone monkeying with my stuff.

For the first few months, it was kind of pointless. I'd turn things into them at the same time I was turning them into my editor or agent and we know whose input was going to count more, now don't we?

But now . . . now, that I'm back to the long game (not just synopses and proposals, but actually producing pages), I'm totally hooked on it. They find little logic issues right away and I can fix them before they trip me up 200 pages later. They tell me when I'm dumping too much info and should save some for later or when I'm not dumping enough and they're confused. They tell me when someone says some thing stupid or offensive so I can take it out before my editor takes an unassailable dislike to my hero. It's marvelous!

Now, I like it when they tell me how funny I am or how clever, but it's when they tell me where I've screwed up that I come out energized and excited to delve deeper into the work.

It's only been a few months, but I'm totally hooked and can't believe I didn't have this backing me up all along. What was I thinking?

So, here's to you, Tiny Killer Bees (that's our name, don't ask me to explain it)! I love it when you tell me I'm naughty! Keep it up!


Molly O'Keefe said...

There is nothing like a critique group - nothing!!! Though clearly we need a better name...Group, is pretty lame.

We've had a lot of fluctuations in our critique group and we've been together for...yikes...seven years? The core of us anyway, we've had members come and go, we take some time off when life gets busy - but the magic of this group is incredible. No doubt about it. The lesson recently has been how to protect it - how to keep the magic focused and helpful to everyone. IT's like NYPD BLue towards the end when Andy's wife gets shot and Rick Shroeder tells Andy that he keeps a good tank (metaphor about a fish tank - heart breaking moment). You have to keep your tank well cared for and clean and running great. I love critique groups.

Kwana said...

It's great when you have a critique group that works.

Kimber Chin said...

What I would love is a critique group for only finished manuscripts.

I can't have people read my stories before at least the first draft is completed. Why? Because the only way I can get really raw and gritty while writing is to pretend no one else will read the story... ever. If I think about someone reading it, I chicken out.

I don't know if such critique groups exist (right now, I hire an editor to look at my work). If you know of any looking for new members, I'd love to hear about it.

Eileen said...

I wasn't sure how I would feel about someone looking at my work during the process, but it's been really helpful.

Molly, any hints on caring for the tank?

Maureen McGowan said...

Kimber, a crit group can be whatever you and the other members define it to be. I don't like anyone reading my stuff at the first draft stage, either.

But it depends on the book. I ask our group for input at different times depending on the story and how it's going.

Like Eileen, i'm finding the biggest issue right now is getting it done enough in front of whatever deadline I have to allow for critique... But it's worth it.

Maureen McGowan said...

Um... Am I the only one who's going to comment on Eileen's obvious kinky tendencies? ;-)

Eileen said...

I'm trying to hone my ability to make everything sound dirty.

Molly O'Keefe said...

You do sound dirty, eileen - very dirty.

The clean tank/critique group thing has to be different for every group - for us I know it's based far more on a work ethic than having a good time. Not that we don't. But our meetings aren't very social - though that's changing. If we don't have work, we don't meet. We are friends - but I would say that the reason we work is that it's secondary. It's also a time commitment thing too - about how much you need, how much you give - if it's not equal it doesn't work. And of course - gobs and gobs of respect.

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