I CRITIQUE, THEREFORE I AM . . . A WRITER

I CRITIQUE, THEREFORE I AM . . . A WRITER

One of the most vital tools for successful writing is a trusted, knowledgeable critique partner. Or if you’re lucky (like me!) PARTNERS. Problem is, whether it’s one or six, finding a critique partner that suits you is one of the trickiest parts of a very tricky career.

A decade ago, about the time I sold my first book to Silhouette Special Edition, I was meeting regularly with a fantastic critique group, and that four-year period was the most productive of my career. I was putting out a viable 18-25 page chapter each week while also finding time to read and critique for three very distinctive writing voices. My personal life was at its most hectic: my husband had just quit his steady-paying corporate job to go into business for himself and we had twin boys just starting school, but despite all the demands on my time, I always found a way to make my writing a priority. Mainly, because I didn’t want to disappoint my critique partners or waste their time.

But unfortunately, as it does, life got in the way. Collectively, our output dwindled and writing got pushed to the back burner. Years passed, and while I never quit saying I was a writer, I DID stop writing. I have a list as long as my arm to justify my writing pause, but the long and the short of is: I liked being a writer, but I had lost my love for writing. And honestly, it’s kinda hard to be a writer who doesn’t write.

Fast-forward to early 2014. I got a wild hair and double-clicked on my languishing WIP. Over two years had passed since the “date last modified.” Wow! This was the moment I realized I wasn’t a writer in any sense of the word. I was an addicted reader who like to tell herself that the 6-10 books she read per week were market research. (In fact, if you ask the IRS, that’s what they’d say. :-))

Then comes October 2014 when Terri pops off with her wonderful/maniacal ICE BATH BIKINI CHALLENGE which lead not only to the creation of WRITE OR CONSEQUENCES but also the start of a weekly critique group between the four of us. Once again, I’m a productive writer!

So, my greatest piece of writing advice is to find yourself at least one critique partner. Personally, I think a group of four is ideal. That’s three different skill sets, three different point-of-views and three different sets of eyes reviewing every word you write. Also, in my long-ago group, all four us wrote in different genres. Talk about getting a fresh perspective!

How do you find the right critique partners, you ask? Unfortunately, there isn’t one golden rule on forming a critique group. It generally happens through trial and error. What I do know is that if you take your time and get it right, it will make all the difference in the quality and quantity of your writing output.

Here’s what I think are some keys that make the four us click as critiquers:

  • Session Rules. Yes, we are all friends, and yes, whenever we sit around a table, there is bound to be personal discussion, but despite that, our critique sessions operate on our own version of Robert’s Rules of Order. These are critical to keeping us on task and on schedule, and they have evolved over time. Once you start a group, start with basic rules as well as the understanding that the rules will change as your group matures.
  • Complete Trust. Showing a rough, raw first draft to someone takes guts, and you have to have complete trust and faith in the people you are sharing your baby with. If you have any doubt about a person, they are not proper critique material. (Also, you will need personal courage. You can be a writer in the safety of your own laptop, but if you want to be an author, you will have to allow people to read what you write.)
  • Complete Honesty. It’s nice to hear people say good things about your writing, but a critique partner is only going to be helpful if the relationship is grounded in complete honesty. You must be willing to speak the truth, and even more difficult, you must be willing to hear the truth.
  • Complete Respect. You must respect the work you are reading and critiquing, and you must respect the person who is offering you the same service. They have invested their time and energy into giving you valuable, constructive criticism.
  • Leave Your Ego at the Door. Turning in a page with fifty typos is not something to be embarrassed about, just as finding fifty typos in someone’s work isn’t something to brag about. Critiquing is not about who’s the better writer or proofer or anything else. Critiquing is about putting out the best story. Period.
  •  Have Fun. Writing is a creative field, and creativity should be joyous. Sure, creating often sucks, but if you can’t find the joy, then why bother?

Dawn Temple

Back when her twin sons were young enough for daily naps, Dawn Temple took advantage of those quiet moments to pursue her dream of becoming a published romance writer. Sneaking in an hour here and there paid off in 2005 when she sold her first book, To Have And To Hold, to Silhouette Special Edition. She managed to secret away enough time to write and sell the second book in her Land’s Cross series, Moonlight And Mistletoe, but alas, her boys outgrew naps and Dawn let go of those stolen moments with her laptop to enjoy life with her two little guys and her big guy, hubby of 21 years.
But now, as an officially retired stay-at-home mom, Dawn has once again found the time and the creative drive to return to writing, and this time around, she’s set her sights on independent publishing. Her first self-published book, Peace of Heart, is scheduled for release in 2017.

6 thoughts on “I CRITIQUE, THEREFORE I AM . . . A WRITER

  1. This is great advice, but it also one of the most difficult things to make happen. I think the four of us are very fortunate to have come together as a group. Yes, we are friends, but we became friends because we met in writing classes and/or writing meetings. So, we were writers first! That is why it so important to be active in writing groups, attend meetings and conferences – create situations where you will meet other people who share your strange affinity for words. At least, that’s how it worked for us! Great post, Dawn! Thanks!

    1. Definitely, Terri. Writing is solitary so be must venture forth to find “our tribe.” And honestly, we came together at a special point in time. Several of our fellow writers were teaching adult education classes right in our backyards, so we all owe a huge thanks to B.K. Reeves, Donna Maloy, and Kim Wutke for inspiring us and for giving us a great venue to forge friendships and critique partners!

  2. Yup on everything you said, Dawn. Solidly YES.

    A big challenge, too, is learning not to argue with the critique while it’s in progress. Much of the “chore” of critique is in receiving the feedback with an open mind and a closed mouth. And gratitude.

    If our critique partners “aren’t getting it,” it’s likely because it’s not actually on the page… And recognizing that we can’t run along behind each reader to correct their understanding of our text is a hurdle that we all have to get over in our early critique group days. No blaming the reader!

    The motivation a good critique group can be is hugely valuable to me. I might not write pages for myself every week, but I darn sure write pages to hand in to the group!

    1. Kay,

      I so get your “running along behind our readers” comment. If I’d had more confidence to let my words run free, I may have attempted writing a novel back in my college days. Of course, if I’d have started back then, I might not have every met all you wonderful ladies — and all the other great people/writers I’ve met over the years.

  3. I’ve always found my productivity the most prolific when I was meeting weekly in a crit group. We are fortunate that we live in Houston, which is writing mecca, especially for romance. RWA was founded here, and the national headquarters are here. There are three strong chapters here, and there is a fabulous talent pool of writers. I’ve never run across one who wasn’t willing to share her knowledge. And out of this incredible hub of writing activity, we four found each other, and we meet each week to encourage, grow, tease a bit (okay, maybe a lot) united in the goal to publish. To sum it up, It’s a fucking blast!

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