Saturday, April 4, 2009

Blog Chain: Heaven Bless My Critters

This week Mary brings us back to some writing basics. Carolyn shared her experiences before me and Sandra will tackle the question next. Mary would like to know:

Are you in a critique group? If so, at what point do you send chapters to the members of your group? How detailed are the critiques you receive and give? Do all members in you group write the same genre?

I am in a critique group, although I haven’t been very active lately. I didn’t have anything to post for the longest time (major writing slump) and in the meantime, several of the people in my group and I started sending each other stuff privately. So instead of a formal group, I ended up with several incredible critique partners. And seriously, I would be completely lost without them.

I used to post (or send) chapters as I wrote them (after a few rounds of my own proofreading - I only rarely send out first draft stuff and only in small chunks, never for line edits, just for general "do you like where this is going?" type comments. I have found that brainstorming certain scenes and plotlines this way can be really helpful if I'm stuck on a problem. It is fun and amazingly helpful to be able to send a page or two to a crit buddy and see what they think and then to hash out ideas until you get that scene. Brainstorming help is just another perk of having a great group of crit partners).

Wow, that was a long "aside." Anyhow, I figured if I had chapters critiqued as I wrote them, by the time I was done with the book, I’d already have edits waiting and everything would go much quicker. What I discovered though, is that I started revising those chapters as soon as I got critiques…so I wasn’t writing any new chapters. I ended up with three fairly clean chapters (for two different books) and was already so burned out on those books I didn’t want to write any new chapters. So now, I save it up until my book is completely done. Then I usually send a chapter at a time, though I will combine smaller chapters.

And of course, this all goes out the window if I happen to query and get requests before things are totally finalized or if I have done revisions that need looking over. Then I send out the full novel with profuse amounts of bribes, begging, and flattery so my crit mates will take pity and crit my whole novel so I can send it out to the agent. But I try not to do this too often :)

How detailed are my crits? Well, most of the time I don’t think my crits help all that much, but I do try to point out everything that confuses me, makes me stumble, anything at all I think might need work. I nitpick as much as possible and point out every teeny, tiny thing that might need fixin'. I tend to be better with the technical stuff; grammar, punctuation, awkward sentence wording, that kind of thing. Which is why it is a very good idea to have more than one crit mate. Because everyone will catch different things…and the things everyone catches are things you know for sure need work.

As for the crits I receive…I am extremely, ridiculously lucky with the people I send my stuff to. I get really detailed crits – again, usually different stuff from different people. One person might catch all my dumb technical errors, another will give great suggestions for improving plot flow, another will find all those plot holes I thought no one would notice :D I really get excellent crits from my partners.

And no, my crit partners do not all write the same genre. Which makes it really fun to crit. I get to read so many wonderful books. Most of us do use similar elements though. I think we all write with at least some elements of romance, and many of us write YA. But the books are all so diverse, from romantic fantasy, to YA urban fantasy, to middle grade novels, to women's fiction, to straight YA fantasy, to historical romances…so many really incredible books to read. And I have one fabulous friend (the always incredible Carolyn) who also writes non-fiction. I am very much looking forward to reading her book (I've read a little already) and hope she will return the favor should I ever finish my non-fiction :)

The genre thing is tricky. It is a very good idea to have at least one person who is familiar with your genre critting your book…because all genres have little quirks that are unique to that genre and it helps if your partners know what to look for, what needs to be added, and what needs to be left alone.

At the same time, I’ve found it helpful and encouraging to have people who are not familiar with my genre read for me. Because it feels wonderful to have someone say, “I never read historical romances, I usually don’t like them, but I couldn’t put yours down!” If you can keep the interest of someone who doesn’t usually go for what you write, then your chances of keeping the attention of someone who IS interested in that genre are so much greater.

My crit partners have been an absolute Godsend for me…I wouldn’t be where I am without them, and I certainly won’t get where I want to go without their help. I love each and every one of them, love to celebrate their successes with them and comfort them when things don’t go just right…and knowing that they are there for me as well, for all my ups and downs, is a gift I will never be able to thank them enough for.


Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

Crit partners are very helpful! I agree that different people will catch different things.

Elana Johnson said...

Great post, Michelle! It is true that every critique partner will catch different things. I like to have people who don't read science fiction read my stuff because they can tell me where they're confused or wanting more. So that was a good point too.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I feel like I could never live without my crit partners as well!!!

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I agree it is cool to have people who usually read or write different genres give you crits. It is sometimes nice to get that different perspective from someone who might not necessarily be in your usual targeted audience.

Kathryn Hupp-Harris said...

Well, most of the time I don’t think my crits help all that much, but I do try to point out everything that confuses me, makes me stumble, anything at all I think might need work.

You never know. Sometimes even the smallest push in the right direction can mean the world to a writer who is stuck.

Great post!

Annie Louden said...

I liked reading your detailed process.
I can see how you'd burn out after a few chapters that you were revising before moving on with the group. Also, what if you had polished chapters at the beginning, but during the writing, the story changed completely? Though, I guess at least you had the practice revising.
Glad to hear you have great crit partners!