Friday, September 12, 2008

Critiquey Goodness


I got a great critique on my WIP from Fabulous Critique Partner Ami a couple of days ago, and I've been thinking a lot about the whole critique thing for a while. Because I'm still pretty much a critiquey moron in a lot of ways.

You think I jest? The first critique partner I had was my friend and college roommate. I lived in a townhouse with two guys; we were like Threes Company, only in reverse gender-wise, and Chrissy was a big guy who played Rush CDs incessantly, even when he slept, and Janet was a little guy who looked like Satan and slept with a samurai sword under his pillow.

I kid you not.

Anyway, Chrissy was a writer too, so we agreed to trade our stuff. I gave him my first manuscript, which sucked like nothing has ever sucked before. He gave me his novella, which was based on a roleplaying game, with all of the details changed to protect the not-so-innocent. And I started to critique. I covered the thing in purple ink, because red is just too high school teacher for me. I worked for weeks. And finally, I gave it to him with a long letter full of feedback attached. His critique consisted of one line:

That was nice.


And then he pretty much quit talking to me. I think the poor guy was a little overwhelmed by the way that I tore his stuff apart, and I was all huffy because I put all that time in and got nothing in return. Took me years to learn a lesson from that one, and said lesson is: I am a critiquey moron.

Moving on. I joined a critique group, and eventually it fell apart due to schedules and other random stuff. So now I've got a fab critique partner. Which is, well, fab. We're really able to dig deep into each other's stuff, since we're not critiquing for other people. And I've got all the time in the world to read blogs and write pages now that son is in school.

But I've really got to curb my critiquey moronic tendencies and figure out what to do critique-wise. I am absolutely sticking with fab critique partner Ami. But it seems like diversification would be good, that maybe we ought to add some peeps to the mix and start another group. I've got plenty of time now that son is in school; after two weeks of reading blogs for an hour or so during the day, I've come to the conclusion that I've got to get off my heinie and accomplish something instead of wasting all my time on bloggy goodness. So yesterday I exercised for a half hour and am now blogging about the fact that I ought to do something.

It's progress. Kinda.

What do you guys think? Do you prefer critique partners, critique groups, or sending your manuscripts to your mother, who is always kind? Where did you find the best critique partners? I've done the SCBWI boards before, but new ideas are always a good thing, particularly when you're a self-declared critiquey moron.

15 comments:

Jeremy Kelly said...

I've never had a critique partner before. I'd like to look into it. So far, the only person who reads my stuff is my wife, who's into speculative fiction like Tipper Gore is into White Zombie.

God bless'er.

Seriously though, now that you bring it up, that would be something that would help me out a great deal. I'm going to start looking into it.

Jamie Eyberg said...

Other than my wife, I have sent my stuff out to James Reed, an old friend and college professor of mine who has won Pushcart award and recently an NEA grant. He tears my stories apart and really makes me work hard at it. Otherwise no groups.

Marcia said...

I belong to two groups. One is long-standing, loyal and true-blue. The other is recent and kind of sputtering. Each group contains people whose opinions I covet, and each group contains one person who doesn't have a clue.

All other things being equal, I think partners might work better. It's like you say. You can go in- depth with each other, you don't have to carry the clueless people, and you can critique on your own time rather than at a "meeting." Of course, the meeting may help make sure you schedule time for critiquing.

Carrie Harris said...

Jeremy, that line about Tipper seriously belongs in a book somewhere. It's TOO funny.

Jamie, how fabulous that you've got someone good and cruel. I think cruelty is one of the best things you can have in a critique partner. I'm partly kidding, of course.

Marcia, I don't know how you manage to juggle multiple groups. I can't even manage in person groups right now; three young kids makes that tough. Online groups work well for me, but still, it's hard to find people you'll click with online. Or maybe I'm just a moron. :)

Tabitha said...

I've done critique partners, and it always works well in the beginning. Then, we started to learn and grow at different paces, and the critiquing became one-sided. Happened to me every time...but maybe that's just my luck. :)

So I'm a big believer in groups. Sure, you have the opposite sides of the spectrum, but I think diversity is good. And if someone leaves, someone else will come in to fill that space and I won't be going weeks or months with no one to look at my stuff (which is what happened with the partner thing). Plus, diversity is good. :)

I'm in two groups at the moment, too. One is online, and the other is in person. I've just joined the one in person, and our first meeting is next week. I'm looking forward to it. :)

PJ Hoover said...

I agree with Tabitha on the groups thing. I'm in an online group of 8 writers. It's funny how each writer has an eye for different things. And what works for one may not work for another so you get a broad spectrum of comments.

Ghost Girl said...

What a hoot! I've never had an official critique partner, so I'm afraid I'm not much help. I once sat in on a group, but the chemistry was all wrong, and I definitely wasn't ready for that. One guy handed me an entire screenplay in addition to the other adult and children's books the other 3 people had. Nope...sorry, guys, just couldn't handle that one.

I have a reader, a fabulous reader, who is only mildly biased but always gives me good feedback. If something doesn't work for her, she tells me (in the nicest way). I know I'm extremely lucky in this one. She is an artist, so I don't get to return exactly the same favor, but it all works.

I've heard great things about critique groups, but I think it's essential to find the right chemistry.

BTW--I've always steered clear of red ink, too...purple or green for me (And I taught HS English for 10 years!).

Good luck!

adrienne said...

Interesting topic. I was just flipping through a book about getting published, and the author regarded critique groups as a waste of time - stating that you should only seek advice from published authors and professionals in the field.

I have to say I'm a little on the fence about it, but I think having the right critique partner could be valuable.

And I'm spending too much time reading blogs, too. Addicting, isn't it?

Carrie Harris said...

Tabitha, I'm interested to know how the in person group goes. I tried an in person group once, and unfortunately it did NOT go well. Feedback was more ego-stroking than anything else, but of course I realize that's a measure of the participants and nothing to do with the format.

PJ, I completely agree and understand. I think it's a matter of finding the right group, and I just haven't done it yet!

Oh, chemistry is so important, Ghost Girl! And finding people with the same expectations as you. I think that's probably why I feel so neurotic about it. It's hard to find.

Adrienne, I can understand the point to a certain extent. I've had a few professional critiques, and you get somewhat different info than you do from unpubbed critiques, but for me it's just handy to know what's confusing, what's tedious, and above all, what needs to be funnier! I don't see why you have to be pubbed to figure that out, right?

P.S. I need Blog Addicts Anonymous. BAA. Our symbol can be a sheep at a computer. :)

Catherine J Gardner said...

I was part of a critique group online (for short stories) last year and they helped me tremendously. A second pair of eyes is a must.

As for my novels. Up until my last one only my mother read them (she did pick out a few things that were wrong but no it was never going to be a slash-it-apart critique). My last book (the fabulous The Poisoned Apple) was read by my mother (she loved it - of course) and a pal I made on the Verla Kay boards. His was a zombie book, mine was a zombie book - it kind of made sense.

ElanaJ said...

Hi Carrie. I have crit partners too. I actually call them Beta readers. They read the ms for me BEFORE I post it in a critique group. My first online critique group was on Agent Query Connect. Um...snarky and mean. I'm now part of an another group through a group of friends I met on the Query Tracker Forum. They are awesome! All serious writers, all understanding of the writing process, all helpful and kind.

We set up camp (the crit group) on RallyStorm.com which is an awesome site where anyone can create any forum on any topic. There are several writing forums already started. So if you have you and your crit partner Ami, you can start a forum there for comments and such, and maybe find some more crit mates!

Good luck. I know critiquing is hard work, and we always want to get what we give.

Caryn said...

Not much makes me more nervous than a test run with a new critique partner. What if they send me their stuff and I hate it? Then I'll be stuck reading something I don't like. I tend to give pretty deep critiques, and so far people have appreciated it, but what if they're offended instead? What if I send my stuff to them and they don't get it? Or they send me a "that's nice"? How do you break up with a critique partner? Thank God it has always happened naturally as we drift away from each other, but still...

I'm lucky now in that I found a couple of great crits. I found one on a message board. I loved her sense of humor and voice. I sent her a private message once about something totally unrelated and we ended up emailing back and forth. I then tentatively mentioned that I didn't have a good critique partner and she wrote the same thing. It was like two people who are single, neither one willing to go out on a limb and ask the other out, not wanting to sound like losers for being so long into the game and unattached. Finally, I asked if she'd be interested. Her response contained many exclamation points, which seemed like a good sign. I met the other critique partner through blogging, though it was otherwise similar.

My number one hint in all this, though, is to sample the person's writing first, because it really stinks to get into a relationship with someone whose writing you don't love. Also, it's good to make sure that they're serious about writing, too. Some people are just in it for fun.

Carrie Harris said...

All good comments. Thanks, peeps!You know how it is when you know stuff but just need to hear people say it out loud? I think what it comes down to is that I hate the stress of finding someone new but love the feeling of finding someone great. :)

Brenda said...

I've was a member of an in-person critique group and hated it (there were six of us and I would critique my little heart out, but I would get critiques like..."hmmm, it was good, but I didn't like the characters name" and nothing else...!!

I am a member of two online critique groups now and I enjoy both of them very much...one for PB's and one for MG's...I've had some wonderful online critique groups and I don't know what I would have done without them...

Ami said...

Carrie? Can we have Elanaj? Please, for Christmas or Chanukkah or, May day or something? She sounds so cool and so smart. Of course, so do most of the people I've read on your blog. Must be a really good feeling to look at all the uber-intelligent folks who think you rock, eh? Someday, I promise to give this a try. And...thanks for mentioning me. Sniff Sniff. I feel so special.:)