Monday, April 4, 2011

Criticism is a Good Thing?

Critique sounds like such a harsh word. Its link to criticism is well known. When I first heard that most writers have critique groups I cringed. I’m sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t like criticism and the thought of willingly subjecting myself to it was a little hard to fathom.

However, as I’ve grown in my role of writer I’ve come to realize that I really needed to take part in a critique group. It’s an avenue of growth and refinement. It’s a way to edit my work to make it more appealing to editors, publishers, or agents.

After the Writing for the Soul Conference in February I met a group of fellow writers in my area who are interested in forming a critique group. So, last Thursday night we all got together at a local coffee shop and had our first meeting.

I almost chickened out. I tried to find a reason I couldn’t go, but there just wasn’t anything short of making up a story. So, I put on my big girl panties and I went.

There were seven of us at the meeting – two males and five females – ranging in age from twenty-something to about fiftyish. Our work varied from novels to magazine articles to nonfiction books to devotional/coffee table books.

The person to the right read the work of the person to their left and then we each gave our input. We used a “sandwich method” in which we first pointed out good things, then the things we thought should be changed, and finally something good again. The person whose work was being talked about took home copies of the notes we all made. They then have the choice to make changes based on the comments or leave the work as is. No one is forced to make changes since it is their work and they decide what stays and goes.

My turn came second and I gave them the first chapter of my novel to read. For all the worry I did about it, the process was surprisingly easy and gave me some great input. If I hadn’t done this I would still be waffling on my story. The consensus seemed to be that the first chapter was intriguing enough to make them want more. That’s always a good thing in a novel.

They also seemed to agree that one of my main characters seemed a little feminine which is a problem since he’s a teenage boy. I had concerns about this before and it was good to hear that my concerns were valid. It allows me to make changes and I am toying with changing the character back to a girl. (Yes, he was a girl to begin with.) There were a few more comments about my word choices and some things that were a little confusing.

Overall, it was a great experience and I look forward to being a part of this group. The criticisms weren’t devastating and even if they were I know the heart of this group is in the right place. That makes it easier to take the hard stuff. And, the hard stuff is what will make me a better writer in the long run.

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