Everyone says I need a critique group. Which I guess is a passive aggressive way of saying, your work sucks, you need help. But I agree, I do need a critique group (and sometimes my work does suck. But I have awesome hair and yours is thinning out). I need someone other than my husband who believes too much in what I write and dear friends (or faithless hussies) who say they’ll read my book but never have the time – you know who you are.
So, when NaNoWriMo rolled around, I actually went to the weekly write-ins. I’d never done that before because I’m not a joiner (imagine that said with a sneer and maybe a pack of Lucky Strikes rolled up in the sleeve of my white t-shirt.) The write-ins were great. I wrote tons and liked the people who showed up too, all local writers.
In the spirit of ‘Gee, we could put on a show right here, in the barn!’ I decided to start a Bucks County Writers Group. Sounds impressive, right? Especially when I capitalize each word – we don’t respect capitals as much as we should. I digress. The problem is that I don’t know anything about critiquing. I gave one person a critique once, one that I thought was really kindly and encouraging. They’ve never spoken to me again. I don’t think it was because of what I said, exactly, because I wasn’t in any way mean. But because of what I didn’t say, ie. YOU ARE AWESOME! WHY AREN’T YOU PUBLISHED ALREADY!!
That’s what we all want to hear, really and when we don’t hear it, knickers get knotted. But here’s what’s worse. Someone does tell you that. It’s happened to me. Someone intelligent and lovely told me exactly that when reading one of my ms. I kept asking her if she was yanking my chain. She proceeded to tell me that indeed, no, she was not blowing smoke up my skirt. I declaimed, ‘Are you shitting me?’ It went on like this for a while. She still stands by her statement and I think she took smack, just the one time, and hallucinated someone else’s book when she was reading mine.
So, what’s the right mix of critique? How can you be helpful and encouraging while helping the writer weed out the garbage? Are there steps? Ground rules? Any suggestions on giving and getting critique?