I’d like to know your opinion on writers belonging to a critique group and at what phase of writing a manuscript, you think this is, or is not beneficial? I’m more interested in learning your thoughts about being critiqued by a group of professional writers, and at what phase, rather than a group that may not have the necessary expertise.
Great question. The first part asks about what phase of writing a manuscript will yield the most benefit. To me, this isn’t a question of where an author is in terms of completing their manuscript, but rather the talent and experience of the writer. I’ve seen many authors with complete manuscripts who wouldn’t benefit from a crit group because they simply didn’t know enough about writing to appreciate the crits.
For example, if I say, “you have three POV switches in the first chapter and the writing is all tell and no show,” I expect the author to understand what I’m talking about and have the chops to go in with a heat-seeking missle. When an author comes back to me and says, “huh? Whatsa POV switch, and whatzis about tell and show?” I roll my eyes and suggest they take time to learn their craft. Putting metaphorical pen to metaphorical paper does not a writer make. You gotta know what you’re doing.
It’s like the surgical intern whose experience hasn’t gone beyond throwing some stitches into a kid’s head. He can’t be expected to perform heart surgery. He could be surrounded by all the best surgeons in the world to talk him through the surgery, but he still won’t be able to perform the tasks because he doesn’t know enough.
As to how far along in your manuscript – I think one should be fairly well into it. If you only have three chapters, what needs critiquing, yanno? Whatever sins you’ve created in the beginning will probably be consistent throughout, but at least you have more meat to work with. I suppose the first thing you should ask yourself is what do you hope to accomplish by joining a crit group? Are you there to fix niggly things that have been dogging you for months? Are you afraid your story setup in ch. 2 is dull and lifeless and you need other eyes to give you a different perspective? Define you reasons for being there, and this will keep you focused on the job at hand.
People tire very quickly of holding the hand of someone who doesn’t know enough. It takes a long time to provide a thoughtful crit, and critters will stop reviewing the author who lacks focus or direction – or enough writing chops.
So the next question is, “how will I know when I’m ready to look for a good crit group?” Simple, you have a solid foundation about writing. You feel confident that you’re ready to be critiqued and will understand the feedback and, most importantly, you’ll recognize a good, solid critique. You’ll have the confidence to know whether the comments are valid, and you’ll know how to go in and fix the problem. Conversely, you’ll know when a critique, while good, may not be appropriate for your manuscript.It’s just as important to know what to ignore as it is what to accept. I’ve seen authors lose their minds over critiques because there are differing opinions, and they try to adopt ALL those changes. Ya can’t do it. Before too long, the work is no longer yours, but a conglomeration of other people’s opinions.
Which crit group?
There are a ton of them out there – lotta junk, lotta great ones. Look for ones with a good reputation. But be mindful; just because a crit group is populated with “professionals” doesn’t mean they are necessarily all that helpful. I’ve heard of some that are brutal to the point of cruelty. Others can be very snobby and operate like the high school popularity contest. Others are fabulous and very helpful.
The good ones have a submission process. For example, I belong to Litopia [owned by British super agent Peter Cox], and I had to submit a piece of my writing to the moderators. They base their selection on the author’s skill – and they’re very good at what they do. If they’re proficient enough, this gives the moderators confidence that the author will be able to understand the crits like a true professional. Because of that, the crits are generally very solid and illuminating. And funnily enough, critiquing others makes you a better a writer as well.
Thanks to GutsyWriter for the great question!