By, Michelle Janene
Writers need to be heard. We have messages that we want to share with the world, we just don’t want to face people when we tell them. Most authors are introverts, yet at the same time we have this need to put ourselves out there.
We sit at our computers, pour our hearts and souls out on the screen, and birth our creations. After some polish and shine we launch them into the cold cruel world where anyone can tear them and us apart. Without restraint that is more often present when we talk to people face to face, people write scathing reviews.
This was written by a six-year-old for six-year-olds.
This is the worst book I have ever read. I want the time I wasted on this drivel back.
It made me want to throw my Kindle against the wall.
These are some examples of one star reviews I’ve read on Amazon. People can be brutal, so authors are often encouraged to have thick skin. Where do we grow that skin? How do we prepare ourselves for the bashing that most likely will come at some point?
Find a critique group. A good one.
A critique group is a small close-knit set of authors that meet regularly for the purpose of improving one another’s writing. Whether it is an online group or a group that meets in person, there are keys to look for in an effective critique partnership.
Every member must be as interested in their own growth as they are in the growth of everyone in the group. The better your critique partners are, the better your writing will be. Each should be invested in spending the time to carefully and thoughtfully read every submission and give constructive advice. Time should be set aside to meet regularly. Both my adult groups meet twice a month.
While we all need our egos stroked now and then, or as my mothers says we all need to hear and “Atta girl,” once in a while, critiquing is more. Most of all we need to know how to improve. We need to know what doesn’t work and where our stories are confusing. It is vital to hear the hard truth if we are going to grow as writers. It is crushing to hear disparaging comments however. I have heard of people who have given up writing or left it for a long period of time after being ripped apart at a critique group. “No one will ever read this,” and “This is a hopeless mess,” have no place in critiques.
One of the biggest factors in choosing a good critique group is whether or not every member is willing to learn. It can be exasperating to take the time to read and give advice every meeting for how to make a piece better only to have the author ignore or argue against every change. Yes, often what your critique partners suggest is just that, a suggestion. When everyone in the group says they don’t understand why your character is behaving in a certain way, you need to go back and make yourself clearer. I don’t take 100% of the offered advice of my critique partners—and I work with the best people—but I rework about 98% of what they have pointed out as an issue for a reader. They are only looking out for my best.
We have a rule in my groups. We take the craft of writing seriously, but never ourselves. In love and good fun we often crackup at some of the stuff we write that doesn’t quite get on the page correctly. A character consumed by furry (instead of fury) won’t be caught by spell check but your critique partners will have a good laugh at it. Learn to laugh at your typos too. We are all human and if the critique partners weren’t there to catch them, your readers would slam you for the mistake.
Critique groups are the safe places to explore new skills, new genres, and work through tough scenes. You can’t be humiliated or ripped apart to improve your writing. We all need people we can trust to tell us the truth—in love, so we are eager to learn. A safe environment is where we all thrive.
It takes time to write, revise, and edit a quality story. It takes time to meet with others and read and evaluate their work. It takes time to invest in their lives and careers. Attending their speaking or launch events, buying their books, and writing reviews—this is what makes us a community of writers. It also takes time and willingness to listen to take those critiques to heart and make the changes that need to be made. The more time you invest in the hard work before you release your darlings into the world, the more likely you are to earn four and five star reviews and avoid those harsh critical remarks. Though remember, there will also be someone out there who just doesn’t have anything nice to say about your writing. If you studied your craft, sent it through a critique group, and took their advice, know you’ve done everything you can. But you will never please everyone.
Search the internet to check out local writing organizations. Many writing groups offer critique groups, workshops, or conferences as part of their membership fee. I belong to Inspire Christian Writers, Inspirewriters.com but there are many more out there. Find your safe place today and see your writing grow.
Meet the Author
Michelle Janene lives and works in Northern California. Most days she blissfully exists in the medieval creations of her mind. She is a devoted teacher, a dysfunctional housekeeper, and a dedicated writer. She released her first novella Mission: Mistaken Identity in 2015. God’s Rebel came out in 2016, followed by Rebel’s Son and Hidden Rebel in 2017. She has been published in “Guide Post Magazine” and several anthologies. She leads two critique groups and is the founder of Strong Tower Press—Indie solutions for indie authors.
You can find Michelle's column here at Pandora's Box Gazette the 3rd Tuesday each month. How do you feel about critique groups? Are you part of one? What do you do to make your writing the best it can be?