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Posts Tagged ‘critiquing’

l-r Lisze Bechtold, Nancy Hayashi, Anita McLaughlin, Marla Frazee, Naomi Howland, and Me

I have belonged to at least one critique group since I first began writing, including one group in of picture book  author/illustrators for over seventeen years. The benefits have been enormous.  In addition to the camaraderie–which by itself has been worth the price of admission–there has been an endless source of objective, positive criticism, encouragement, and support. Yeah, I know. hard to believe someone would  relish the idea of criticism, but the way I look at it I would rather hear it first from a group of people I trust than to hear it from an agent or editor and blow my chance for a sale.  The truth is I can think of no better way to learn how to objectively judge your own work than to practice on the work of others. When it comes to our own work we all view it with our own biases. Learning to listen to how others view it forces us to consider that it may not be as glorious as we first thought.

In addition, attending a regular critique group keeps you accountable. It’s expected that you will have something to show each time you attend. Sure, life is going to get in the way, but knowing you have a meeting means you always have at least some kind of deadline. For those writers who tend to procrastinate, don’t underestimate this benefit, and hopefully the other members will call you to the mat if time after time you are showing up without work. Just remember they are doing you a favor.

Here are some basic suggestions I would offer to anyone beginning a group.

1. Look to work with others who can readily accept CONSTRUCTIVE criticism.  There is nothing that will kill a group faster than someone who is overly defensive.

2. If possible have someone else read the work other than the author. Writers tend to read their own work the way they think it sounds instead of how it really reads. This is especially true of poetry.

3. The creator should not talk until everyone else in the group has had a chance to comment. This encourages serious listening instead of defending or explaining.

4. When you present your work, introduce it with just the basic information, title, genre, what draft it is.

5. Do not offer apologies or excuses.

SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) is a great resource for children’s book writers and offers even more information about how critique groups function, how to join an existing one, or start a new one at  Critique Groups and Critiquing.

If you are truly serious about your craft, consider joining a group. Whether you meet in person or share work over the internet is your choice. Either way it beats sitting in your office and wondering if your work is ready to be sent out into the world.  With the insight of a good group you’ll know and your work will steadily improve–I guarantee it.

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