The Ten Commandments of Writing #6: Thou Shalt Heed Thy Critiquers

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

It has been some time since I posted one of The Ten Commandments of Writing. I am returning to this series today with the Sixth Commandment – Thou Shalt Heed Thy Critiquers.

I’ve been running The T Party Writers’ Group for over 20 years now. Various people have come and gone over the years. Some people have stayed for a little while and then moved on; others have been with us so long it’s hard to imagine a time before they joined.

Then there are others who came once, for a critique of their masterpiece, who  threw a tantrum when one or two members dared to suggest that perhaps this piece needs some improvement, instead of heaping effusive praise on it, and then they flounced off, never to be seen again. Just a tip – don’t be this writer.

The other end of the scale is the writer whose work receives a ritualistic flaying during a critique session, and they get so depressed they shove the work in a drawer and never finish it. I admit that this latter category has applied to me once or twice.

Sending your work out to a critique group takes courage. You have spent months or possibly years on your novel, sweated blood for it, gone through the usual rollercoaster of feeling alternatively like you’re an undiscovered genius or a blatant fraud, and now you have to sit there while a group of people take it in turns to tell you how ugly your baby is.

However, it is something that every writer has to learn to deal with. A common mistake that many self-published writers make is that they don’t get their work sufficiently edited. There is only so much a writer can do with their own work – you get too close to it to see the full picture. You need someone who’s not involved in it to give an honest critique.

That’s why it’s important to have beta readers and critiquers. People who will tell you honestly, and frankly, what needs improving. The problem we have in our group, though, is that for everyone who says ‘I didn’t like your character – she’s bossy and annoying’ there’ll be someone else who says, ‘I love the way this character argues with everyone and stands up for herself”.

There is a balance between listening to all the criticism and not listening to any of it. If you belong to a regular critique group you’ll get to know after a while which writers are on your wavelength, and which ones are genuinely interested in the genre that you write in. If you write cosy crime, for instance, you’ll probably find that the critique from the person who reads a lot of cosy crime is more relevant than that from the person who only reads hard SF.

On the other hand, if there are six people looking at your work and five of them make exactly the same point, it’s worth heeding it.

So this is today’s lesson. Find critiquers. If there is no ‘realspace’ writing group in your area, join an online critique group. Or start a group of your own (well, it worked for me). Once you have found them, submit your work to them and be prepared to listen when they take the time to read and comment on it. And be prepared to get your heart broken, because it’s never easy to accept criticism of your work.

But the only way to grow as a writer is to understand where you need to improve. No writer is beyond editing.

 

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