I didn’t do well with writers’ critique groups. As far back as kindergarten, my progress reports showed a propensity for uncooperativeness. But for years I tried attending gatherings where we’d read an excerpt from a story or discussed pages we’d been sent ahead of time.
There are all kinds of people in critique groups.
- The pompous ass who thinks his writing, and opinions, are brilliant
- The nit-picker who deconstructs each paragraph a word at a time
- The shy guy in the corner who never reads his own work or makes comments on others (but probably has the best advice)
- The gabber who is compelled to remark on EVERY piece
- And a few genuinely helpful people who manage to get a few words in between the gabber, the nit-picker, and the pompous ass.
Here’s an example:
The brush of his hand upon her cheek created a frisson of excitement that she could not ignore. Pushing him down onto the sofa, Lolita raised her skirt and straddled his legs.
4 people comment on this paragraph.
- 1st person: Love the use of the word frisson
- 2nd person: Frisson is so overused these days. Find another word.
- 3rd person: Would the mere touch of his hand bring on this kind of reaction?
- 4th person: What color was the sofa?
And of course, in these groups, you get people reading poetry, non-fiction on the history of demi-tasse cups, newspaper articles on toe fungus, along with fiction writers of everything from zombie romance to 22nd century science fiction. So you’re not always getting the best feedback on your novel about being raised in Budapest by your grandmother.
It took the humbling experience of a mountain of rejection letters to realize that my writing needed work.
My point here – and yes, I do have a point – is that critique groups are fine, but they may not be your best avenue for feedback on your writing. And please don’t think that asking your mother, brother, wife or boyfriend to read your work constitutes good feedback. Come on! My husband refuses to read my stuff because he enjoys good food and sex too much to go out on that limb.
If you can find people who will read with a critical eye, and you listen to what they say, you’re on the right track to producing good work. But after you’ve rewritten and edited and fine-tuned, and you’re still getting rejected, maybe it’s time to call in the professionals.
You just might have to pay an editor to look at your manuscript and see what is ailing your story.
Otherwise, your just wasting time listening to the nitpicker ask you to describe how the man groaned when Lolita pulled up that skirt.