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:~: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 :~:

A Little Help From My Friends...

Over the course of the years I’ve been writing, I’ve gotten a lot of advice. Some of it good, some of it bad. Some of it didn’t work for me, but may have worked for other writers. I had a hard time picking one bit of advice to blog about today, but after a little bit of thought I finally settled on a topic—critique partners. Or, more specifically, some advice I got regarding them when I first started writing and was still trying to figure it all out. This well-meaning person told me critique partners should be avoided at all costs.

She went on to say that revising a manuscript based on critiques changes the writer’s voice, and the book becomes a group effort rather than the book the author intended to write. Writing is a solitary effort, and revisions and changes should be up to the editor or agent.

I can understand her reasoning as far as voice goes, to a point, but at the same time I can’t say I really agree with it. It’s a matter of finding the right crit partners. Ones whose writing styles mesh with your own. It’s also a matter of weeding through the critiques you get to find what needs to be changed and what suggestions work for you and your story. Editors and agents want to see a manuscript that’s as clean as possible, and as writers, we’re too close to our own work to pick up on some of the mistakes.

I’m not a big fan of large critique groups (IMO, too many people critting sporadically and no one really gets to know everyone else’s writing styles) but I’ll never give up my crit partners. I’ve had great ones, I’ve had not so great ones, and I’ve had some really bad experiences with others. The ones I have now—the three of us have been working together for a while—are invaluable. They’ve helped me with not only grammar mistakes and spelling issues, but also characterization and plot holes (and given me the occasional kick in the butt when the book I’m writing doesn’t seem to have a plot at all. :grin: )

My crit buddies are also always up for a brainstorming session whenever it’s needed, and they’ve helped me with titles, too (so not my strong suit). One of them read Affliction before I submitted it to Red Sage, and the changes she suggested are things the editor told me she loved when she called to let me know she was buying the story. If I hadn’t incorporated the suggestions, I probably wouldn’t have sold the novella at all.

Don’t forget we’re cross blogging with Romance Unleashed this week, so be sure to stop by and visit over there, too.


Blogger Eve Silver said...

Great post!

I've been working with the same CPs for about seven years, and I credit them with helping me every step of the way. Before hooking up with my current group, I had experienced some rough critique relationships. So, based on my experiences and research, I've presented workshops on the critique partner/group relationmship.

Uh-oh...have I been guilty of taking on the mantle of Ms. Dis-information? I hope not, LOL!!

7:59 AM  
Blogger Sally MacKenzie said...

Hi, Elisa! Here's another example of what works for one writer doesn't work for another, so NO one should try to prescribe for someone else. I'm a no critique group kind of gal. Years ago, when I was trying to get picture books published, I took a children's fiction writing workshop that became a crit group. I found I started writing too much to please the group, if that makes sense, and decided it was better--for ME--to write (and suffer) alone. Now I won't even let my agent see my work until it's finished AND revised. But, again, that's me. I'm a bit of the odd bird. HOWEVER, the crucial thing here to my mind is that I've faced who I am and how I work and I don't feel that I need to change. Different strokes for different folks, heh? And I still need to remind myself of that when I hear all the other advice out there--some of which is very good, just not for me or not for me at this time.

8:06 AM  
Blogger Elisa said...

Eve--I don't think you've taken on the mantle of Ms. Dis-Information. LOL

Sally--absolutely true. :) We all have to decide what works for us as writers. For writers just starting out, that can be a difficult task, and it's really easy to fall into the trap of listening to everyone who has a little bit more experience.

I've had the same experience with crit groups, where I felt I was starting to write what I thought they'd like rather than what I knew I should be writing.

8:21 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Great post, Elisa. I think the key with crit partners is the same with writers who give advice - you have to weed out the good stuff from the comments and toss what doesn't work for you. That's a lot easier to do once you've been writing for a while, but like everything else in this business, there's a learning curve. ;)

9:06 AM  
Blogger Kristina Cook said...

Hi, Elisa! I talked a bit about critique groups on Romance Unleashed--but what I forgot to mention is that what works for you at one point in your career might not work at another. The group critique thing used to work very well for me, and maybe if I'd always had the *right* group, it would still work. But I ended up finding a wonderful critique partner and moved on to a one-on-one critique situation. The biggest "plus" is that we know each other's manuscripts almost as well as our own. The biggest minus--we've become what we call 'co-dependent,' which can be bad if one of us goes on vacation or gets sick!

9:23 AM  
Blogger Kate R said...

yeah, What Kristina said. My main writing goddess thinks she's allowed to go back to school and get another career. She really should know better.

9:36 AM  
Blogger Lori Devoti said...

I am critique partner free. I was a member of a couple of groups and did learn a lot, especially from the first one, but overall they just don't seem to work for me. I think you know when you get a really good critique, because they will mention whatever was bugging you about your book, but had been hoping no one else would notice.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...

Oh, boy, critique groups and partners. Hmm, well, I could go on and on about this topic. I've been through quite a few...both. :-)

I agree that you have to find someone that understands your voice and doesn't want to change it, someone who can work with your style even if it's not her own. And you have to be able to weed, like E said.

Whoever said you shouldn't have critique partners garners a what-the-heck-are-you-smoking look from me. I'd be so utterly lost without mine!!

XOXO - you know who you are!

3:56 PM  
Blogger Teresa Bodwell said...

The voice comment is a great example of disinformation. Of course there are people out there who have trouble finding their voice after a number of crits. There are probably even people who start to imitate their critique partner's voice.

Is this a basic flaw of critique groups? No. A writer's voice usually develops over time as she writes more and more. It can't be forced and won't come if forced. A crit group can't give you a voice, or change your voice if you have one. But a good crit group can help you develop your writing, your voice, your characterization and your plots.

As several people have pointed out--it is a matter of learning to listen to the critiques and take the advice that feels write for you.

5:38 PM  
Blogger Kristina Cook said...

LOL, Joan, I'm with you! I couldn't function without my critique partner! I have an interesting anecdote about one woman from one of my former groups, though....she signed with an agent, and then claimed that her agent said she should stop critiquing with anyone, because people might 'steal her ideas' (because hers were just so brilliant?!). I won't even go into how silly this is--and the fact that 'ideas' can't be 'stolen' . My critique partner and I have always wanted to do a test, where we brainstorm a plot and protagonists together, and then each go off and write the book--just to prove how TOTALLY different the books would be, even based on the same 'idea'.

5:43 PM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...


What a fabulous idea! Let us know when you do!!

1:18 PM  

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