Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Critque Groups are Not For Me

            Critique groups are wonderful for some writers but not for me.  I’ve had two books close to completion for over a year but I wanted to perfect them before I submitted them to an agent or a publisher so, at the top of my to do list was to get them critiqued in a group.
            I submitted the paranormal to a crit group after I had polished it up and tweaked it all I could. From four authors I got four opposing opinions on how to open the story.  Back to the drawing board I went but confusion quickly followed.  I tried this and that and then ended up with a beginning so altered even I thought it sucked.  One of the authors threw in some snarky comments that shot like arrows through my heart.  I lost my enthusiasm for the project so I decided to remove myself from it and start something new.
            I started writing on a time travel western at the turn of the century.  It was a project I had been thinking about for some time and my outline was laid out so I felt comfortable getting into it.  Once again, I submitted my first 30 pages to a different crit group.  What I got back was a mixed bag.  Some crit members agreed on some points so at least I had something I could work at and I did.  But, once again, there were five opposing views on how the story should open.  I tried working at the beginning, twisting it this way and that, adding what I had taken out and then adding it back in because of another opinion until self-doubt began to creep in.  Maybe I wasn’t the writer I thought I was.  This time I lost my love for the project altogether and it showed.
            I stalled out.  My creative enthusiasm drained away.  I took a class in Procrastination and Writer’s Block.  It helped some.  My story ideas were flowing but getting anything outlined or moving past the first chapter failed.  My characters were wooden and their motives weak.  What was I going to do?
            A friend told me to write from the heart.  Well what does that mean?  And then I figured it out.  I had to start caring about my characters and what would become of them.  I had to stop listening to other people—that means crit groups—and start hearing my own voice.  I had to begin writing for the joy of it again and write what was important to me instead of over-analyzing what I wrote and wondering what other would think.
            In the end, I found that a crit partner worked best for me—someone I knew and respected.  A beta reader is also helpful.  But critique groups are not for me.  I know some of you use them and swear by them but not me.  In fact, I think I would rather work entirely alone than to ever join a critique group and submit my work again.  


Tina Donahue said...

Wonderful post, Sarah, and so close to every writer's heart.

I've never used a crit group (didn't know they existed) and I don't use a crit partner either.

I know, in my heart, when what I write is incorrect or if I'm nailing it. I can feel it. The words make me laugh, sigh, weep or bristle with rage at what's happening to my characters.

I don't need anyone telling me that or how I should feel.

I also know I'll never please every reader out there. That's not my job. I want to move me. When I do that, I move others.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Thanks Tina. Of course you were the one who said to write from my heart. It just took a while to figure out what that meant. I always appreciate your unfailing support.

Redameter said...

Sarah it is true that if you care about your characters then others will too. Listening to your own heart is the best. Sometimes I struggle to get it right, and so instead of writing, I run it like a reel in my head, the movie. If it doesn't gel I keep running new ideas. and then again sometimes you have to get away from it for a bit to see what's wrong.

But the minute you start feeling down because of what someone else says, get away from that person. Negativity breeds more. So get away, clear your head, and listen to your heart. It will come, sometimes we just have to listen to our hearts for a while.

And never let anyone completely tear you down, nothing is more detrimental to your writing.

Love and blessings

Delaney Diamond said...

Sarah, sorry to hear you had such a bad xperience. I use critique partners, and I have several. Initially I cast my net kinda wide until I could narrow it down to a few people I could count on to give me good, honest feedback. I've found it's also important that my critiquers read and like the type of stories I write.

My critique partners are very helpful in helping me polish my work and flesh out ideas. I take what I can use and ignore the rest. They also notice things I miss, such as repetitive words or inconsistent timelines.

The basic plot or storyline I usually maintain because it's the story I want to tell, not theirs.

Cheryl Pierson said...

This is exactly why I don't use or recommend the use of critique groups. You must write your own story and be happy with it. If everyone liked the same thing, we would all be walking into B&N buying the very same book. In many crit groups there is a hidden agenda that doesn't remain hidden for long. It's called JEALOUSY. I could go on and on about this topic, because it is one that I caution all my students about in the very beginning when they come to my classes. I wholeheartedly agree with your post.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Hey Delaney, thank you for commenting on my blog. I gues each of us has to find the formula that works for us and I'm glad that you have found good crit partners to help you.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Cheryl, thank you so much for validing me with your comments. It means a lot to me that you "get" me.

Rawiya said...

Great post Sarah.

I only belong to Erotica Writers and Readers Assn and even though a few in there are snarky, I find them helpful.

I have always held true to writing for you first regardless of what anyone says.

The difference of opinion is what makes everyone unique. Just as we do with reviewers, we talk the ones in crit groups with a grain of salt.

I have found a few people that have read my wk, fanfiction and otherwise that give me honest feelings and point out my mistakes. I feel this is essential for me as a newbie since I'm still trying to make a niche.

The ERWA has helped me to grow thicker skin. I don't get upset about anything hardly. That I appreciate as well.

Glad you found a partner to help though.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Rita, thank you for commenting on my blog. I really apreciate your support, too. I wish I hadn't found out about crit groups the hard way. You're right about negativity and how it can have a devastating effect on your writing.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Thank you for stopping by Rawiya. Of course, it isn't my writer feelings that were injured. God knows I'm used to that. It's that the crit group's response was so wide and varied and snarky, that I went into Writer's Block.

Sandy Sullivan said...

Great blog, Sarah. I don't use crit groups either for that same reason. I do have a couple of beta readers and I value them tremendously. I couldn't handle that many opinions on my piece. It would drive me nuts.

Hang in there, hon, and listen to you characters. You'll do great!

~ Sandy

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Thank you Sandy. I'm happy to see you understand exactly what I mean. It's good to see your supportive words.

Fiona McGier said...

Hey Sarah, if the critique folks were so smart, they'd be the ones the characters were trying to get to write their stories, right? I'm a firm believer in listening to "the voices in your head", who want to have a life outside of your head. The only way they can is when you write their stories, and others read it. Who are we to deny them that? Keep on writing, honey!

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Fiona, you aare so sweet. Thank you for your supportive comment.

Renee Vincent said...

Sarah, this story pulled on my heartstrings....for many reasons. A critique group should NEVER steal a writer's passion for the written word. And never should you belong to a group where you come out feeling less inspired and near giving up.

The purpose for any critique partner or group is to support the other in their career and help to hone their craft, not stifle their spirit to the point of fizzing it out.

I think you did the right thing. Critique groups are not for everyone and in the end, what matters is that you come out feeling proud of your work and the characters are as you say, have found a place in your heart.

I've often found that so many people have completely different 'voices' in their writing and to hook up with others who do not write near the same voice as you is not good. They often damage your voice with their own and it never meshes with the rest of your work.

As an author, Sarah, you are in control of your story. The opening scene, the direction of the plot, and the development of the characters within, all have to come from inside your heart. Otherwise, the feeling the readers love to capture in an author's words is absent and the joy of romance is lost.

Stick with your gut, Sarah. And stay behind the wheel of your career. I've said that from the get go to anyone who's ever asked me for advice on their writing. It's okay if you allow someone to help you navigate through the trouble spots, but all in all, you control which road to take.

Happy writing, sweetie!

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Renee, thank you so much for the support and your wonderful encouraging words. It's always so good to know that you are there for me and so many others in our group. You are such a pleasure to have here.