My words matter so why would I send them out all over the globe to people I only know via a few emails? How can I trust them and what if they hate my writing? If they say I stink do I have to quit?
By the time my critique group sees my writing I will have searched for misspelled words, missing commas, and replaced most of the “ly” words. I will have anguished over finding just the right word and built the tension. The pages will have been read out loud more than once. I may find myself surprised by a passage or two that sound like keepers. My characters voices will sound distinct and strong.
So why subject myself to criticism?
Once I’ve sent the pages to the group, I’ll be waiting. I’ll check my emails more often than I should just in case someone had time right away. I’ll check again in a little while and pour myself another cup of coffee. I’ll pray that I can take whatever is offered then I’ll pray they are given wise and discerning insights. And, yes, I’ll check my email again.
So why put myself through this?
When I’m not part of a critique group, something vital is missing in my writing life. Here are three that impact me most:
-I lose confidence in the work because I’m aware I may not have caught all the unintentional errors
-I lack the input of writers who are my first readers and have the ability to see what’s missing or what should be missing
-I long for the genuine encouragement of writers who know writing
So what makes a good critique relationship?
Motives matter on both the side of the critique giver and the receiver.
An excellent critique comes from a person motivated to encourage - which means to “infuse with courage. ” Writers are pendulum people. Even when I think I’ve offered some good writing for a critique, I immediately wonder how much my partners will find wrong with it. What I was sure about just a few seconds before I hit the send button dissolves into doubt.
The other side of that same critique is the offering of “suggestions” to consider in improving your work. An excellent writing partner knows their writing friend is not going to take 100% of their advice. The wise critic is not so invested other people’s work that it becomes his/hers. Ownership always belongs to the author.
An excellent critique contains a vital balance between praise and suggestions. Genuine applause is not flattery but it is enthusiastic. It’s important that critique partners are excited about each member’s talent and projects. If a critique leaves out positive comments the trust is broken. A returned manuscript full of only suggestions shows a critique partner unwilling to see the good in someone else’s work. Only nice comments leave the writer out in the cold when the goal is to make the writing the best it can be. One without the other is unbalanced and damaging and can cause a writer to give up.
An excellent receiver is motivated by a desire to write better and publish only the best. Gone are the days when an editor had time to extensively edit submissions they were serious about accepting. Writers know this is part of their job description and receiving critiques helps them attain this goal.
This writer is also gracious. Receivers seldom agree 100% with all the critiques they get. When they go in with the anticipation that they’ll be able to glean a morsel or two from each critique partner’s suggestions, and do, the process is a success. Because writing is a job full of rejection and criticism, a sincere compliment is enough to keep an excellent writer writing. Even if when a writer can’t use the suggestions, receivers with right motives are thankful for them.
Some writers think they have to make every change offered to them by their writing partners. They end up changing the voice of the writing and losing their own vision. It’s been said writers should seriously consider 3% of the total critiques they receive. While the person/s critiquing the work will put in a bit of time offering these suggestions, there is no obligation to take them.
An excellent receiver is willing to share his/her vision for the work up front. This writer is able to inspire his/her writing partners with his/her purpose and passion. A complete synopsis isn’t needed but a brief outline can be helpful. This is especially true when someone joins a group later in the process.
An excellent receiver is not defensive of the work. There may be times writers need to clarify a misconception, but these discussions are not where writers come out swinging. By submitting something for a critique group members ask for input and anticipate responses. They are able to sift through what is offered taking and leaving as needed.
An excellent receiver is also an excellent giver. The two are conjoined at a brain and heart level. Together they are a power source no writer should be without.
Much of the time, writing demands solitude. Most often, non-writers think what we do is cool and are pretty sure they could do it too but listening to us talk about our work? Not usually. Reader take-away, plot, character development, and word counts are not part of their world.
A group of writers banding together becomes more than a place to improve the writing and get a pat on the back now and then. These writers find getting emails from their critique partners, is like Thanksgiving dinner with family who love and respect each other. The members don’t all agree, but they love time together spent talking about what they do, why they do it, how they do it, and when they succeed or fail. They know their writing partners will keep their confidences, share their pain, help ease their anxieties, and celebrate their victories.
A critique community, with right motives, quickly transforms into a safe place to try out and try on new projects.
So, that’s why we hit the send button.
Joy DeKok is an author and speaker. One of her life's passions is encouraging people to see and live their potential. Joy is not a coach but might be considered a “life cheerleader. " Because she's living out her dreams, she knows others can too. This is one of the driving factors in her writing and speaking. http://www.joydekok.com