Friday, January 30, 2009

Everyone's a Critic

A few weeks ago I started taking a writing class with Valerie Hobbs. There are seven of us, including Val, in the class. We meet once a week in her Santa Barbara home to talk about writing, focus on what is important in our stories and critique each other's works.

The critiquing scared me. I've always heard how beneficial it is to have a critique group, but I've never been part of one and wasn't really sure how to find one. The idea of having near strangers read my work and tell me what was wrong with it sounded as terrifying as someone reading my diary over a loudspeaker. I wasn't looking forward to it.

My turn came last week. I emailed everyone the first two chapter of my WIP a few days ahead of time and briefly considered not even going to class. What if they hated it? What if they told me my writing was terrible and my concept even worse? What if I was like one of those people on American Idol who think they can sing but actually sound like a cat falling off the Empire State Building?

I stressed out for nothing. My critique session was one of the best things I've ever experienced as a writer. Not only did I receive positive feedback for my writing (yay!), I also learned what areas were weak in the story. Because everyone has a different viewpoint, I found it interesting to see what people liked and didn't like. My classmates also had some great suggestions for making readers care more about individual characters. Overall, I was very pleased with the suggestions and really grateful for such a positive first experience.

I think looking at everyone else's manuscripts is helping me as a writer as well, because I'm learning to zero in on what's working, what's not working and why. And hopefully I can apply that knowledge in my own writing. I love hearing what other people notice in each piece, especially when it's something I may not have realized on my own.

So, I'm on the bandwagon. I'll probably still one-on-one manuscript reading with certain people, but I really love the group critique. I can't wait for my next one!


Kelly Polark said...

That is great that you are involved with a critique group. I love mine- for the help, the support, and friendship. Last night we did something different. We had a writing prompt, Wrote for 20 minutes, then read the stories we came up with. It was pretty fun!

PJ Hoover said...

There's totally a place for both! I love my group and I love getting full critiques, too.
So glad you had a great experience!

Sherrie Petersen said...

Kelly -- we did that in one class. And it's something I enjoy doing at home with my son.

PJ -- I think you're right about needing both.

I'm curious you often do your groups meet?

Rena Jones said...

Oh, that's great it was a good experience for you, Sherrie. I've never joined a critique group either. I'd feel the same way you do.

Give Santa Barbara a wave for me next time you're in town. I was born there! :)

PJ Hoover said...

My official group is online and we each get to submit 20 pages a month. We rotate so each week we have two critiques due.
As for full manuscript critiques, it's generally on demand.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Rena -- I'm in SB every Tue and Thu. I'll think of you next time I drive down :)

PJ -- Thanks for the note. I've always wondered about online critique groups...good to know that it works for you!

Patty Palmer said...

I'm so pleased that it worked well for you! In all the years of being critiqued, I've never met a fellow writer who wasn't kind and generally, quite helpful. It's almost scary to look back and realize how many people critiqued my work over the years. I'm convinced that it's the only way to become a better writer.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

That is fantastic! I belong to an online critique group and I've formed a close-knit circle of valuable friends who give each other amazing feedback, encouragement, and help. It is one of the best things I've ever done.

I now have the courage to put my work up for a lot of others to see, as well (my novel blogs). It's hard to get feedback sometimes, but it is the only way to grow as a writer, in my opinion.

I am getting what we call a "thick skin." It is a hard, but wonderful experience.

If you're ever interested in joining my group, let me know. I'd love to have you on board. :)

Sarah Laurenson said...

My writing always improves by leaps and bounds when I get in on some good critique action. And the harsher critiques have actually been very good (a bit hard to take at first) but very eye opening about what I need to work on.

Now I have no fear about what the critiquers might find. I actually depend on other eyes to help me create the best product I can.

Anonymous said...

Oh,you had me laughing so hard! First, the diary & the loudspeaker, than the cat falling off the ESB! I was NOT laughing at you, but at your wonderful language!

I am so happy you're having a good experience. You know how I feel about critique groups, and what you're getting is EXACTLY how it's supposed to be. You're like a critique group poster child! YAY! :)

Sherrie Petersen said...

Patty -- If it wasn't for you I might not have been part of this class, so thanks!!

Glam and Sarah -- I hope I'm as brave as you guys at some point. I didn't realize writing would be so scary!

Becky -- Your posts have definitely helped me brave the critique world so thanks :^)

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