Thursday, July 28, 2011

Critique Conspiracies

What a dramatic title, huh? Conspiracy is actually too strong of a word. It’s just that relying on a critique group can be as tricky as braving the daggers of public office. Oh the unnecessary fences one must scale in these sessions when you’re simply trying to learn how to craft a better mystery, romance, etceteras!

Because the critique game can be such a trying journey, I feel compelled to make fun of and expose it for what it really is so that the novice all the way up to master writer can walk away assured that they are indeed on the right path to publication. Because, believe me, you’re definitely going to experience some counterproductive static. Let’s make sure that like with my previous series *, we’re doing all we can to save you from any possible detours.

Before I go roasting and ranting about some of the silly things these opinionated circles do, it must be made clear that I love critique socials. I couldn’t begin to sit down and inventory all the things I gleaned from my group let alone pass them all on to you. Make no mistake…I’m a staunch advocate of meeting with other writers and seeking suggestions for one’s work. And in every posting, I’ll try to remember to point out the good points of this process.

But now, it’s time to heckle. Just a few teasers to give you an idea of what this series shall dispel.

Isn’t it funny that when you ask someone’s opinion, you can almost witness them changing into another character? Do they hitch their pants up and snort like a Barney Fife? Does her voice change to that of a drill sergeant even though she’s usually quite the fly on the wall? Not to mention the question: Are they published? Beware. I’m definitely going to send these egos home crying.

You will inevitably hear from some critique peers that you absolutely must be finished with a manuscript before you submit it. If that’s the case, I must be living in Narnia. When an editor welcomed an impromptu pitch from me, I wrote a short story in one day to submit to her. After editing on the 2nd day, I sent it to her on the third. Good writing is subjective and I’m not going to brag, but that little story keeps yielding royalties. Look at it this way—if you want to write for a living, you’re going to have to meet deadlines. Don’t fall for the common aforementioned conspiring advisory from critique groups. But we’ll explore more how to prepare an unfinished work which is of paramount importance when the call comes.

Just wait until you encounter the Squatter. This is someone who’s got a lot of clout with the group or with your writer’s club, and breezes in late, steals some feedback for their work, and leaves early because they’re too important to give back. And as you’ve probably guessed, no, they don’t have a book deal. In fact, to the contrary, I find that most successful authors are very respectful and classy when working with the soon-to-be published. Maybe the moneymakers got to where they are by taking care of their own…besides spinning good yarns.

Since the editor of this blog keeps mashing me to ante up with solid writer’s tips to balance with my sarcasm, I leave you with some absolutes. Then we’ll rip on some specific idiosyncrasies of critic groups in a couple of weeks.

• To gain success, every writer must get feedback. The greatest, richest authors have to listen to someone’s opinion whether it’s an editor, group, agent, reviewer, partner reader, or all the above. We’ll talk about optimizing this process in later installments.

• If you asked someone to read your stuff, you got to face the music. Never complain. This is especially true if you’re in a group, yet there’s one member who you can’t stand. Keep your mouth clamped to this person. The fact is, the bombasts from this brutal critic of yours will serve as the most valuable lessons you’ll get from a critique group and I’ll divulge why later.

• You will get suggestions that are just flat out wrong.

• Quoting William Goldman, author of the Princess Bride and so many other jewels, in regards to this writing business, “Nobody knows anything.”

So, with this many contradicting parameters, how does a writer know how to employ feedback? I’ll begin answering that next time with a posting about joining a critique group.

Yours Truly

The ever opinionated E.C. Stacy

* In my last series, Stupid Writing Rules, I deconstructed several mythical axioms about composing stories, most of them originating or at least cultivating in critique groups (I.E. Show Don’t Tell, when really the rule is Show When You Can, Tell When You Have To). Please feel free to enter ‘Stupid Writing Rules’ in the search of this blog and familiarize yourself with them. Or not.


Marlena Cassidy said...

Who drew that picture? It's amazing.

I remember one member from my writer's group who thought she knew everything and wasn't afraid to impart silly knowledge on everyone. She loved to deconstruct the simplest sentence and find something off or odd about it.

That aside, great post! Very funny and very informative, and I loved it!

Chiseled in Rock said...

Thanks! My wretched hand is responsible for the drawings. ;)


Dean K Miller said...

Like everything in life, you get what you ask for, and then you must have the gumption to filter that which is helpful and recycle the rest.

Critique groups are a great thing, but aren't the answer to all our writing worries. But they sure are a lot of fun when done up right.

lesleylsmith said...

I don't think I've seen someone change into another character, when asked advice. Your group must be interesting!

I think your example of pitching a short story before you write it is VERY different from pitching a novel before you write it. If you're telling previously unpublished writers to submit novels before they're written or 99% finished, you're giving bad advice. :(

Chiseled in Rock said...

Good points, Dean, Lesley. However, Lesley, one of the reasons I'm writing this series and busting myths is because I KNOW an author with Kensington who had never written a novel, who pitched ideas for one, then wrote it, then got a book deal. It happens. Like I said, if someone's telling you can't do that, I have proof otherwise and will cover it soon. It's not a matter of advice. It's a matter of truth.


Dean K Miller said...

When I first started with my group, and at NCW, I was surprised to learn how many times the advice was to pitch, then write the "sold" idea. It seemed backwards, not to have a completed project, but sell it anyway.

But if we stay with the pitch idea, a baseball player can't hit the pitch, until the pitch is delivered. Same for writing. We can't write the "hit" novel or short story unless the pitch is made. We've got to give them somehting to swing at before we hit it out of the partk.