"Put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it." -Colette
I don't know about you, but I can't stepped back far enough from my work to judge its worth. If you can, I'm envious. If you're like me, then you need a critique partner or group. I have the good fortune to belong to two critique groups, both providing different input for my journey as a writer and an author.
Do you remember that first moment you let someone else read your work? I don't mean your mother, your sister, your best friend. I mean another writer who had the ability to see the flaws? I do. And some of those ladies are still reading my work today. They've pushed me to grow, pushed me to learn, and just plain pushed me. In the process, I hope I have done the same for them. Recently, I had a conversation with one of my groups about what they wanted for their writing future and we had a chance to review our critique process. I realized then that I have some pretty stringent rules about reviewing. I don't mean the basic rules like don't be harsh, find a few things good, etc. Those are all how-to rules. These are fundamental core ideals that I have developed as I've grown more confident in who I am as a writer. I call them my Five Respectful Rules.
1. Advice should be honest. I absolutely hate having an editor tell me in a rejection letter something my crit group should have told me. And when the details of that letter are followed by crit group saying "I thought that but didn't tell you" that's even worse. If you are serious about becoming the best writer you can be, about telling a phenomenal story, and about getting published, develop a thick hide and insist on honest, thorough red-marked reviews.
2. Learn how to take that advice. Obviously there are times in the review process where you should listen to your muse and stick with your ideas, that's why I always tack on the disclaimer - this is just my ideas, use what you like and disregard the rest. However, if your first instinct is to fight everything your crit partners are telling you, well....um... how do I put his nicely? Don't. Why? Well, besides the fact that you do too much of that, others will quit reviewing your work, I've discovered that most times, they are right. Set it aside, think about it, make changes and see what happens. You might be pleasantly surprised.
3. Time is golden. We all have lives, families, writing goals, and most of us are squeeking out the time to write. Respect that. Give warning to your fellow critters if you have work needing review. Give them a time frame or a due date and stick to it. Don't decide after you get two or three reviews that you have enough and pull it. That causes frustrations with others who can't be so prompt and invites 'wasted my time' hard feelings, which leads to less reviews. At the very least have the courtesy to ask the rest of the group if anyone is working on any more input. It's polite. It's considerate. It's respectful.
4. Return the favor. Sure most of us would love to have beta readers who wait anxiously to be the first to read our latest work. But in the real world, those people reading our work and giving us the best input are the ones that are writing also and they deserve time exchanged for spending hours giving our work their attention. To have a truly respectful relationship with a critique group means honoring this above all else.
5. Thank yous are priceless. Miss Manners says so and so do I.
Do you have any critique group ideals that have developed over time? Please share. Then run over and tell your crit group or partner that they are terrific!
[Original published on Happy Endings, February 17, 2010]