Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Critique Groups and Mountain Climbing

Yesterday, my family decided to go on a little hike. Well, that was what I thought we were doing. I should have known better. I forget my husband is half mountain goat. So anyway, the plan was to hike to the Wind Caves at Usery Pass near Phoenix. About half way I looked up to see my kids far up the trail, RUNNING to their destination. I took stock of my own self, and thought…no way can this body that has no clue what excursive is, be able to climb this mountain.  But, being the stubborn girl that I am, I kept going. I was passed several times by cute girls in their spandex shorts with their six-packs showing. Yet, I continued. Even though we all traveled at different paces, there was a sense of comradely on that tail. Lots of smiles were shared, and many stepped aside to allow me and others to pass. 

Finally, my family made it, and Boy that View! I looked out and saw my little valley from a perspective I had never seen before.

This got me thinking about critique groups. Years ago I went to my first writing conference held by SCBWI. There, I pitched my first complete work to an agent. She was very nice, and asked to see my manuscript. During our conversation she recommended that I join a critique group. Yikes! It can be a bit intimidating to share your work with people who take writing seriously. You may feel that others are in better “shape” than you, after all, they have been exercising for years in some cases, and you are new to the gym. And that moment when you share your “baby” for the first time, it’s not easy. So why should you do it?

First, we need the exercise. If we are going to get into shape, we need to do the work. And don’t kid yourself. Good writing is work, hard work.

Also, when reading other’s work it is possible to see where your own can use improvement. You get a glimpse of what works and what doesn’t.

Finally, just like getting to the top of that mountain, its good to gain another perspective. It’s easy to be so engrossed in how you see your story that you miss where the plot has holes or your characters are a bit one-dimensional, or your wording could be cleaned up a bit. It's one thing when friends and family read your work and say they like it, that affirmation is important (we all need it from time to time) but there is no substitute for an unbiased opinion. 

You get all of this from a critique group. These groups make the revision process so much more productive, so why not give it a chance? Your writing can’t afford not to.

I am in a group with ladies who are all members of the ANWA organization. They are a huge help to my writing process.  Because we are sharing something so personal there is a bond created that is very unique. Now, after several years of monthly meetings I cannot imagine sending anything out to an agent or editor without first bringing bits and pieces of it to my group to review.
So, if you have any desire to take your writing to the next level, a critique group is a great place to start. You will be glad you made the effort. Who knows, before you know it you could be the one flying up the trail to enjoy the excellent view.

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