This past spring, I was at a book signing with several other authors. The woman beside me was part of the local Writer’s Guild and tried to get other authors to join. I asked if they did critiques with one another. Her eyes lit up and drifted off to the left and up before looking back down at me. “Having someone else read over your story first? What a wonderful idea!”
She is self-published, and was popular with the locals who came to the event, but as sweet as this woman was, I couldn’t get myself to buy one of her books — without an editor or even other writers giving their imput before publication. I could be wrong. She might be one of those rare gems who is truly a word-wizard, and I missed my chance. I actually met an elderly woman once who caused my jaw to drop with her on-the-spot writings, but she wasn’t at all interested in getting published. How sad for the world.
For those of us who write and rewrite and delete and toss and revise, and revise a few more times, often doing all this before presenting anything to our critique groups, writing is a struggle. It’s time-consuming and hard work. I simply cannot imagine doing this all on my own. I need my critique group. I value their eyes and their thoughts. For me, I see five main reasons to participate in a critique group:
1. Someone other than your mother or spouse can look over the manuscript for plot structure or story arch or clarification.
2. They can point out where the characters work or don’t work, where the author has the character say or do something, but isn’t in that character’s voice or POV.
3. They can show where you’ve repeated a single word four times in two paragraphs, or have a convoluted sentence structure, or have told, not shown, etc.
4. Struggling alongside others, and each wanting to improve your writing, you can do group studies on various books of writing craft, or of books in your genre, and share the insights and promote discussions and then apply what you’ve gleaned to your own writing.
5. Critique groups keep you producing, month after month.
I’ve been in several critique groups, one for over a dozen years. I’ve also had beta readers checking word for word errors. And I’ve had editors who point out things which none of the others mentioned, and who strive to make my writing absolutely shine.
Writing is a lone business, but it doesn’t have to be lonely.
A friend sent me a goofy picture with a confused look and asked if this is how authors feel about editorial time. I looked at it and thought: 1) I don’t feel confused, but rather, challenged. I pace in order to figure out difficult plot or character situations; and 2) Half of my editorial time is spent cleaning the house, doing yard work and laundry, reading and responding to emails and FaceBook posts. The other half of my editorial time is spent in no-blinking computer screen reading and re-reading and rewriting and revising until my legs go numb and my back feels like it’s had a rod stuck in it for days. Oh, and there’s the print-out version time when I think I’m ready for a final look-through, and end up putting editorial marks and revised words on each page until they’re nearly unreadable.
Maybe it’s not such a good idea for an author to work at home. Not this one, anyway. But since I find other locations very distracting, it’s the best I’ve got.