Monday, April 16, 2012

n is for naked

One evening, a couple of years ago, I wandered into our local B&N stark NAKED. I sat down under the unforgiving white lights where every flaw, every imperfection, every blemish begged for attention…humiliation, disparagement, mockery. Not quite like this guy, but you get the picture:

A nightmare? Not at all. It was the night I ventured, unannounced, into my first critique group, prompted by nothing but a brief listing on the store’s monthly calendar of events: “Pennwriters—Join us for a read-and-critique workshop with members of Pennwriters (which, I learned, is a statewide writers’ organization, but who knew?). Bring ten copies of five pages from your work-in-progress to share with the group.”
Such audacity! Me…an unpublished wannabe-writer sitting down among tested and proven authors who would scrutinize every “is, was, and would be”, every adverb and adjective...every typo, for that matter…in my poor buff manuscript. Talk about feeling exposed!

If this sounds like torture to you, let me assure you, it is not! Well, sometimes it can be a little rocky…when someone urges you to kill one of your “babies.” When they tell you, “The story doesn’t really begin until page 134—get rid of the rest.” When they point out that you used the word “was” eighteen times in just three paragraphs and you hadn’t picked up on it! But then everyone laughs because they’ve done the same thing, too.

I’ve commented on this before and I’ll say it again…I love my critique partners! That’s not to say that I always welcome their corrections and suggestions but it’s so much better coming from them than a cold, dismissive agent or editor…because by then, it’s too late. You know the line, “Sorry but this is not for me…”. In our group we make it point to balance criticism with encouragement, correction with support. And, oh my, does it feel good when what you’ve written is well-received!

If you don’t have a critique partner or group…or if you’ve been avoiding the whole concept out of fear or timidity..but are willing to give it a try, here are some tips:
If you prefer the idea of sitting NAKED in the privacy of your home, you can connect with an on-line writing group. Let “Google” do the walking. You will find groups listed by genre and by locale. Check out for a listing of writers’ groups.
One of the advantages of an on-line group, especially for those of you who are shy, is the degree of relative anonymity it provides. No one will recognize you. No one will know that you’re the local kindergarten teacher writing sadomasochistic thrillers, or a dead-beat dad penning Christian inspiration. In an on-line format, you have a flexible schedule, you can connect with writers in the same genre, and you can work wherever you can carry your laptop.
On the other hand, there will be an inevitable delay as you wait for feedback on your submission. And you may miss the personal connection with your partners.
A local writers’ group allows you to meet local authors and to network with other writers in your area. You are held to a deadline as you hurry to polish your submission in time for the monthly meeting. And you get immediate feedback. You can almost tell what’s coming as you watch your partners read your work. There may be an impromptu chuckle or collective “ooh!” or “ahhh.” A reassuring nod or smile.
On the other hand, you will be acutely aware of the scribbling going on in the margins of your WIP, of people fidgeting and glancing ahead to see how more of this crap they still have to read. That’s when it can get a little nerve-wracking.
Groups operate differently. Some send out submissions by e-mail ahead of time and simply exchange comments when they meet. Some prefer to read and respond on the spot. Whatever format you choose, the group should observe certain ground rules and basic etiquette.
First, shirts and shoes are required!

Our group restricts submissions to five double-spaced pages, allowing approximately five minutes for reading and ten minutes for comments. Rude, demeaning remarks are not allowed nor is ridicule. We consider strengths and weaknesses equally. To save time, we do not encourage the writer to defend or clarify his work or to argue against particular comments. Take them or leave them, deserved or not. In other words, put your big boy boxers on and deal with it.
Still not convinced that a writing group is for you? Interested but not sure how to proceed? Check this out:

So, don’t be shy. A good critique group will be your BFF. If you hope to get published, this is a good place to start.
“We do not mind our not arriving anywhere
nearly so much as our not having any company
on the way.”
--Frank Moore Colby--
In my next post I'll give you a well-deserved OVATION!


  1. Wonderful post! I'm a new follower from the AtoZ challenge, and I'm happy to meet you. :)

    I love my critique partners. I'd be lost without them!!

  2. I don't have a writing group, but I do have many critique partners. Several of them have become close friends of mine, and one became my very best friend, writing soulmate, and now my pub sister. That's right. We've both been picked up by the same publisher! How crazy is that?!

    Anyway, I so agree with you. CPs are essential to becoming a better writer. I've come leaps and bounds, and that's primarily because of my CPs. I simply could NOT do it without them.

    Great post! I'm a new follower via the A to Z. Nice to meet you, Jan!

  3. Sounds absolutely wonderful. I read about such a group in my area, and went one time, all excited and feeling very much like a kid on the first day in a new school. But as I told my husband when I got back home, "Everybody KNEW me!" He seemed surprised at that, and then I delivered the zinger: "And every single person there was married to YOU!" Bummer. The group dissolved before I got to attend a single meeting. There's another group farther away, but they meet at night, and I'm not a fan of night driving. Oh well.

  4. You do have a great critique group. I wish I could make it more often. I have commitments already for the next two months. Maybe after that.

  5. Wonderful blog and great post - you really had me going in the first couple of lines, lol! I, too, had a wonderful critique group before my work schedule changed and I was no longer able to attend. I came away from each meeting feeling so encouraged and motivated to keep on going. But the first time my own writing it the block was scary, indeed! Thanks for sharing - and good luck with the rest of the challenge!

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