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Friday, February 15, 2008

Critique Partners and Groups, part one

Critique Partners and Groups:
Viable Help, Coffee Clutch, or Cheerleading Section?

by Ruth Logan Herne


The title says it all. Is your critique partner or group an asset? Are you the best you can be to them? Are they a boon to your writing? Do they point out problems while encouraging you to make necessary changes for possible publication?

Or is your group a social club? Long minutes of fun, casual conversation, a glass of tea, some writing talk, a bit of gossip, lamenting, followed by an abbreviated critique time?

Maybe they love your work so much they can’t find a thing wrong with it, it’s just so good, oh, my goodness, why on earth aren’t you published, you know you should be!!!!!

Ahem.

Critiquing is an art and discipline like any other part of writing. It’s a lot like raising children. The whys and wherefores of other people’s flawed children are obvious to us. We have an outside view and can understand why ‘Johnny’ does what he does because his parents:
1. Never got up with him
2. Always got up with him
3. Never put him in sports
4. Let him play too many sports
5. Fed him Kool-Aid laced with red dye #2
6. Worried about stupid things like red dye #2

You get the picture. The outward view can be easier to handle than an introspective look. The same is true of our writing. Most of us are protective of our work. Hurt by criticism. In love with our heroes. (Sooooo hot! Nice. Sensitive in a manly kind of way…Insert maidenly swoon here.) We pour heart and soul onto a page and it becomes part of us, intrinsic. When someone dissects it or finds fault, we get self-protective.

Get over it, already.

Yeah, you heard me. Put it behind you, get your panties out of a bunch, and go back to work. Finesse it. Smooth it. Start over, if you have to. What writer hasn’t done that? None that I know of, even the oft-published ones. In fact, I can think of a few published works that could have taken this advice to heart.



It’s not personal. It’s business. (I love every time Tom Hanks says that line to Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail.) Take it on the chin, Rocky Balboa. Or, if it is personal, find a new critique group.

I am often shown things with the disclaimer, “My critique group (partner) loved it.” I’ve been known to cringe at those words of late. If your critiquers are friends or cohorts, they may not have the strength or knowledge to steer you in the right direction. Then it becomes your responsibility to find people who will, until you have an editor that isn’t afraid to slap you upside the head (gently, of course) demanding a thorough re-write in a month’s time. (Okay. Maybe not so gently.)

Examine your partners. If you’re grammar deficient, is that their strength? If your plots need firming, are your partners strong in discernment? Can they help thread your plot line with greater intensity and fewer words? Are they tough enough to expect to be impacted by your work as a whole and not the all-too-common flashes of brilliance? If they’re not impacted, can they share that with you openly? Be honest in their estimation?

Sometimes the problem isn’t them. It could be you. If you get defensive every time someone finds fault, they may stop critiquing. Gloss things over. Smile and nod. It becomes easier to avoid the argument than be yelled at for doing what was originally expected.

It’s a fine line on both sides. Finding the proper partner can be a Godsend. But you won’t find him/her unless you look. If your work is wallowing in mediocrity or you feel you’re at a standstill and don’t know why, give yourself a righteous shake-up. Or shakedown…

Continue to part two

Ruth Logan Herne loves God, family, country and sometimes dogs. When she’s not hard at work torturing young children, she writes wonderful stories of faith, family, hope and inspiration. She loves chocolate and has discovered Starbucks caramel/mocha frappuccinos. Watch out.

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