What Stace had to say on Thursday, July 23rd, 2009
Summer Series: On Critiques 2

Be gentle with me today, everyone. I spent an hour this morning with the Hair Butcher of Alpharetta, and am feeling a mite traumatized. I should have realized something was wrong when I saw her Laura Ashley-esque dress and little wedge heels; this woman would not understand what it means to want to look like a whorish punk rock Barbie. And no, she did not. The good news is, apparently I’m a better hairstylist than I thought, as all she really did (at first) was to trim–barely–the layers I myself cut. It was when I explained I wanted MORE layers that the trouble started. But oh well. It’s only hair. It grows. And I can put enough gunk in it to fix it in the end.

Anyway. Enough about me.

As I said the other day, I have plenty of crit submissions; six or seven, I believe. I am going to try to do them all, interspersed throughout instead of at the end. Thanks so much to all who submitted.

So. Last time I gave you all a bit of background on my fantastic crit partners. Today I’m going to talk about finding partners, a bit, and next week we’ll start doing the crits and talking about how what we need from crits changes as our skills develop. Next week we start getting into the nitty-gritty, in other words.

Kait Nolan left a link in comments on Monday that I want to post here. It’s Crit Partner Match and it looks pretty good to me.

But it occurs to me that with the exception of Anna, none of my critique partners were found specifically to be critique partners. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Crit Partner Match service–I think it’s incredibly clever, actually–or any of the other services about which I’ve heard good things, like CritiqueCircle.com.

My suggestion? Join Absolute Write. Or any other writer’s forum that has beginning and professional writers as members; that has a good mix. Romance Divas is another, if you write romance. As with any forum, AW or Divas are not for everyone. Hang out for a while. Join some conversations. Get to know people a bit.

For the love of all that’s holy, do some research before you join such a forum. Don’t join a forum called (to pull a name out of my mullet) “Professional Writers” or some such faff without checking the members out. Are they actually pros, or are they all self-published? Are they PA “authors”? Do they actually know what it means to be professional, in other words? What kinds of people do they seem to be? This may be simply a quirk of mine, but I avoid any forum where I see more than one member discussing their own God-given talent. Or offering to trade Amazon reviews. Or discussing promo ideas like slipping bookmarks into their utility bills so “the person opening the envelope sees it.” (Those are all opened by machine, AFAIK, anyway.) Do you know what I mean? You want a cp who knows what the hell they’re talking about.

Become active on writer blogs, in comments. Several of my dearest online pals are people I “met” at Miss Snark or Evil Editor. I think Nathan Bransford has a pretty big following, as does the awesome Janet Reid. See someone whose comments you like? Write their name down. Keep track. Visit their blogs and comment there. Get to know them.

Livejournal has quite a few groups for critiques. I don’t know much about those, but I do know there are groups for readers of specific genres; I’m a member of a couple of urban fantasy groups there. Fangs, Fur, & Fey only allows published members, but anyone can watch and comment, and it’s another way to get to know people. For example, if someone’s post or comment at any of these places reads:

im lookin for somone to read my stuff n tell me if its good or not i dont know but i think it is i want to get pulbised for my birthday

they are probably not going to be very helpful to you.

I understand a lot of people find critique partners through RWA, but you all know I regard that organization to be about as useful as a single ball bearing in the middle of the desert, so I’m certainly not going to recommend you spend the outrageously expensive fee to join RWA National, and then another fee to join a chapter (because you have to join a chapter to actually accomplish anything, I believe.) If you want to do it, then by all means go ahead, but I think it’s a big fat waste of money.

I think, re the RWA, what I have always thought: if a group situation is what you want (it’s not for me, which I will explain below), you’d be just as well served to put up a notice at your local bookstore, or something, that you’re starting a [genre] writing group, and give your email address so you can set up a meeting. But again, you may feel differently.

My point is, it’s not easy to find a good crit partner, as I’m sure you know. I lucked out big time with Anna. I was also lucky enough to trade some crits with the fabulously talented Janet Mullany early on (and Janet, if you see this, sorry I never emailed back! I still think you’re amazing!).

Because your crit partner has to get you. They have to know not just how to critique, and enough about writing to be around your level, they have to know what you’re going for. It’s similar to dating. It’s actually similar as well to agent-hunting (remember my “People not fish” post, where I compared it to dating? It is.) This is someone you need to click with. It’s important.

I trust my critique partners implicitly. I may not always take their advice but I always seriously consider it. You need that. And yes, it doesn’t happen instantly, but it should happen rather quickly. This is why I do think it’s better to know someone at least a little before you start critting each other. Not necessary. But good.

And just like dating, don’t commit right away. Anna and I exchanged our first three chapters, with the agreement that if we didn’t like each others’ work or critiques there would be no hard feelings. Like I said Monday, luckily we loved each others’ work and comments. But that won’t always be the case (and we will cover at some point how to end a crit arrangement or whatever; I have a lot of thoughts on it so want it to be its own post.)

And what about groups, like those ones you hear about where it’s four or five or ten or fifteen people meeting up to read out loud and comment or whatever? I dunno. I’ve never been a part of one. I’m not by nature a joiner. For some people that sort of arrangement may work, but not for me. (If it does for you, tell me why in comments. I’d be interested to hear.)

Here’s my problem with groups. Groups become cliques. I like to keep my cps one-on-one. While Cori, Anna, and Caitlin might all get the first three chapters of a new project, I seriously doubt they’re discussing it with each other before they get back to me. And that’s the way I like it. Mark gets my finished mss but I seriously doubt any of the others email him to say “Did she fix the lame ending of Chapter Fourteen? Because it blows.” And again, that’s the way I like it. The group dynamic, IMO, leaves too much room for hurt feelings or feeling ganged up upon. If something doesn’t work out with a single CP it’s a lot easier to deal with. I know some people like the social aspects or it spurs them on, but I think the risks outweigh the benefits.

And frankly…this won’t make me popular, I know, but if you need a group around you to actually force you to put words on paper, maybe writing isn’t for you.

So. I realize this post was a bit all-over-the-place. But to sum up: Look for critique partners in lots of places, not just specific critique groups, and take your time. Get to know people. It’s always better to work with people you like.

Next week we’ll really get into it. :-) As always, please ask questions! On this topic or any other. I want to address whatever you want me to address, okay?

2 comments to “Summer Series: On Critiques 2”

  1. Angie
    · July 23rd, 2009 at 1:54 pm · Link

    My first workshop experience was a group in college. It was nicely eclectic, with people of different ages, rather than just being a bunch of 18-20-year-olds, but IIRC no one was published, including the teacher. (It was technically a class, but for most of the workshop members it was the only one they took; I was the only full-time student while I was there.)

    My main problem after a while was that it was too shallow. If you’re just starting out and looking for general impressions, and particularly if you have a thin skin, then I guess that works. But if you’re looking for a real critique, going around the room and having everyone point out one or two things (or for the requisite Adverb Nazi, reading you all the horrible -ly words she circled) really doesn’t help much. Live, realspace critiques are too limited by time and logistics.

    I participated in the RomEx workshop for a couple of years, and posted a couple of stories each on the SFRT and Writers Ink boards (all on GEnie, back when) and that worked much better for me. An online workshop lets you take as much time as you want or need to do a critique, and doing it on the computer makes it much easier to annotate the story or chapter itself, so your comments are right there by the relevant lines and the writer knows exactly what you’re talking about.

    And yes, it’s easier for a strong personality to dominate a live group than an online group. The Adverb Nazi had everyone cowed in our class. It can still happen online, but the would-be ruler has to work harder.


  2. synde
    · July 23rd, 2009 at 6:35 pm · Link

    well said..

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