Waiting for "The Call"

“Honey, it’s always crap. Every book I write is crap. It’s my job to fix the crap afterwards,” according to Nora Roberts. Well, I've got it half right. Still working on the "fixing it" part. "Trust your characters to be complex enough and to have enough emotional baggage. Force them to make hard choices." Advice from Michelle Styles that might help!

Critique group or critique buddy? November 19, 2008

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 10:41 pm
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Romance writing can be a solitary affair, just us and our story. Which is fine if we’re only writing for our own pleasure, but not necessarily so good if our aim is publication. LIke sex, writing can be fun for one, but even better shared with someone else!

When we keep our writing to ourselves until we feel the story is completed and edited, it’s just too easy to get so close to the story that we can’t see it clearly enough. This can lead to one of two things, both of which can kill any chance of getting our beloved story published. I know, ‘cos I’ve done both!

Either we see nothing but the faults and flaws and keep endlessly editing and rewriting and polishing, and never allow another living soul to see it. The risk here is that we can literally edit the life out of the story, polish the diamond away to nothing, taking out the exact things an editor is looking for- the things that make it individual and fresh and give it our unique voice. Plus of course, the story never gets entered in a contest or submitted it a publisher or agent, because it’s never quite “good enough”.

Or we can’t see the flaws in our story. We know exactly what the hero is thinking when he’s so horrible to the heroine in chapter four, so we don’t explain his motivation and he comes across as a bully and a tyrant, not a man she could fall in love with. We know who is saying those delicious lines of dialogue or thinking those key thoughts, so we don’t realise that for a reader our shift in point of view wasn’t obvious at all, and she has to back up and read that page again to figure out what the hell is going on. Do that too many times and she’ll throw the book against the wall in frustration, or the editor will do it for her first with a quick rejection. Or continiuty slips, where the hero who was sitting down is standing on the other side of the room in the next line, and the heroine’s green eyes turn blue in the next chapter. I had my hero do something that was actually physically impossible in the first chapter of my IS entry!

Luckily there’s an answer for us wannabee published writers. And it doesn’t involve paying lots of money for a professional crtique, though they have their place too. It’s getting another writer to read and comment on our stuff for us, in return for us doing the same for them. Another person reading our story can see all those things that we can’t, both the truly wonderful things we don’t realise, and the bits that need fixing before an editor sees our work. All it takes is one other person, or a group. It can be done face to face or on the internet. I am lucky enough to be part of a fabulous crtique group, just six of us all aiming to be published with Harlequin Mills and Boon. We haven’t met each other physically yet, we met up online, but I feel I know those girls so well! Getting to be part of the group was pure luck- I just happened to be posting in the right place at the right time. when the group was formed I also have a wonderful critique buddy. So many published romance writers comment on their blogs or websites about how much help their crit group or partner was in helping them get published. Of course, plenty did it all by themselves too, but my experience is that being part of a critique group or having a buddy is not only massive fun but so beneficial for my writing too.

There are advantages and disadvantages to a group or a one to one buddy partnership. The great thing about a group is that there is a wider range of feedback, different people will see different things. With a buddy it’s one person’s opinion, which could be spot on or could be simply a personal preference. If three members of a critique group all pick up the same thing in the story, chances are this is something that most readers would see. If a buddy says it, we might edit out something she didn’t like but most readers would love. Or we might say “Well that’s just her opinion,” and leave in something that most readers including the editor will also hate!

Particularly for someone who is a little shy or reticent, a buddy can be easier than a group, because it’s just forming that one relationship. With a group we might feel more nervous about sharing our work with a number of people at once and dealing with a lot of feedback. Also with a buddy there isn’t the sheer volume of writing to read and critique. There are some amazingly prolific writers in the group I am part of, and I feel so guilty that I haven’t read and critiqued all the writing that has been posted. Also, sometimes I feel inadequate that I am writing so little in comparision. The (very plus) plus side of that is that I am getting to read some brilliant writing, in my opinion more enjoyable than some published romances out there, and learning so much about editing and strengthening a story that I can apply to my own work. Also, with a group if a member isn’t able to participate so much because of illness or other life events, things can still go on. Everyone will have a personal preference, it seems that many writers have a group AND a buddy, or even several groups and buddies, though that must keep them very busy!

Whichever way you choose to go, the thing I think is most essential is that the others involved are aiming at the same sub-genre as you, or at least open to it and with a good understanding of it. Someone who writes sweet inspirational romance may not give a totally useful critique on some aspects of a hot erotic story, and the erotic romance writer may not “get” what inspirational romance readers and editors are looking for either. Plus people have to be willing to give and to accept constructive criticism. It’s not much help having someone who only says nice things about the piece of writing, as chances are it isn’t already perfect. It’s even less help having someone who just tears the writing to shreds without any comments on how it can be improved, that’s both unhelpful and demoralising. And there’s no point in a writer who is positive their stuff is already perfect joining a group or looking for a buddy- there almost certainly will be some areas that need more work getting noticed and commented on. I know my writing is improving, but there’s a way to go yet. And even multi-pubbed writers still bounce their stuff off their group or buddy before sending it off to their editor, so I’m not going to be too proud to take some help from other writers.

Finding a group or a buddy isn’t too hard. How to do it depends it on if you want to be part of a group or partnership that meets face-to-face or online. The group I am part of is closed to new members, but there are lots of open groups or wrietrs looking for crtique buddies out there.

Finding a face-to-face group or buddy

  • national groups like the RWA have local chapters
  • if you live in a big town with a bookshop that specialises in romance they may have writers’ groups already running, or if not you could post on their notice board to see if there is anyone else interested
  • you can look on the internet for a local group or a buddy- asking on romance discussion boards like eHarlequin or Romantic Times may local an existing group, someone near enough to be a buddy, or even enough people to start your own group meeting in a coffee shop or the local library
  • check out the local library- many have writers’ groups, or host lectures or workshops by published writers. Here in the UK Mills and Boon writers regularly do library talks- what a great way to meet other people interested in romance in your area.
  • look at the adult education or evening classes in your area- are there any writing workshops or classes? Just make sure to check that they are open to romance- I got put off writing anything for years by joining a class that despised romantic fiction!
  • try an ad in the local free newspaper- you may find a buddy or be able to start a group. Or even better, write an article about wanting to start a romance writers’ group and get the local paper to publish it. There are some ideas for how to go about starting up a writers’ group here
  • big online writing events like NaNoWriMo have local groups that meet all year round, some members are just writing for fun, but others are more focused on publication. There will be people writing in all genres in these groups- but you may just find the ideal critique buddy there.

Online groups or buddies are even easier-

  • entering “romance writers critique group” into Google brought up a load of online groups that are open to new members
  • critique group leaders looking for new members may post about their group on eHarlequin or other romance discussion groups
  • RWA in both the US and Australia have online groups (this requires paying to join the respective RWA, but there are plenty of other benefits to membership- I intend to join both when I have some spare cash!)
  • eHarlequin has a page just for writers looking for a critique buddy here
  • if you can’t find a group that feels right to you, start your own online group just like Barbara who started our group did- thanks Barbara! It’s free and easy to set up a group at Google, Yahoo, MSN or plenty of other online providers. You can post about the group on eHarlequin or the romantictimes.com forum, or invite people who you see posting on any of the romance discussion boards or blogs who you think may be interested. Do be prepared for some refusals- critique groups aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and some people you invite may already be involved in one or more and not have time to get involved with another.

Does anyone have any other ways to find a group or buddy to suggest?


15 Responses to “Critique group or critique buddy?”

  1. Sri Says:

    Hi mulberry,

    Nice post. I’ve tried a couple before but they were not for me because I don’t read paranormal and urban fantasy genre and I knew I would be no help critting those.

    Do you have any opening in your group? If not, please ignore my comment. 🙂

  2. Sri Says:

    Oh ok, I think I missed the line where you said you are closed for new members.

  3. waitingforthecall Says:

    That’s okay Sri!
    There are lots of open groups that have sub-groups that will allow you to just deal with the style of romance you want to. There are so many sub-genres now that no-one could possibly read across them all. Even better, try starting your own group- work out what you want and try posting on some of the discussion groups. Four to six members is an ideal size.
    Good luck with your writing and with finding a group.

  4. What a fantastic post. There’s nothing like feedback to make you take a second look at your work and improve it.

    After years of working alone, I’ve taken the very brave step of uploading my first chapter online for free at LULU to try and garner in some of this valuable feedback whilst I’m finishing my novel. The downloads have begun and I’m now just waiting nervously for the emails.

    We’re too close to our own work to make an objective judgement and it takes someone who is not emotionally involved to point out the flaws. Even if the criticism is harsh enough to make you cry, the worst that can happen is that you’ll end up with a better book.

    Keep blogging!

    Laura Essendine
    Author – The Accidental Guru
    The Books Limited Blog

  5. waitingforthecall Says:

    Thanks for the comment Laura. I like your approach to getting truly objective feedback- it’s not one I’d heard of before but it’s brilliant. I’ll go have a look at your chapter, and I wish you all the best with the book!

  6. I’ve never been part of a group that worked. They all start out with good intentions, then it seems everyone gets too busy…or too annoyed by the rules…which is too bad…

    …because as nice as the buddy/CP relationship is, people get lives. I’ve had some of the most blessed CPs — babies, new jobs, boyfriends, promotions — but that means they have MUCH less time for reading my work.

    pre-published groups work better, I think. Now, people seem to want to blow smoke. There isn’t a single piece of writing that can’t be improved. Well…nothing I wrote anyway!

  7. waitingforthecall Says:

    Thanks for visiting, Jenna! I do think it’s going to be interesting to see how our group evolves as time goes on. It’s a very new group, just a few months old. Right now, we’re all prepublished, but inevitably things will change as some of us get the call and some are left waiting longer for it (I’m in the second group, just haven’t been writing enough, plus there is some truly amazing talent amongst the others there!).

    I can see that the more you’ve had published, the harder it could get- your other published buddies are going to be busy in their own deadline caves and not have as much time, while the non-pubbed are going to be in a “OMG, she’s published, how can I dare to make any comment on her stuff?” state.

  8. Janet Says:

    The problem with groups is that unless you can find members in the group who are targetting the same publisher and the same line, the comments you get might not be suitable for your particular story. And you can’t always find people who will stay with your story from begiinning to end.

    They are great for general writing advice but when you need more specific help, a one to one CP targetting the same publisher is invaluable.

  9. waitingforthecall Says:

    That’#s a good point Janet. As Sri said, some of the open groups are just too broad based, and critiques become too generalised. I don’t feel I can get into the nitty gritty of world building with someone doing a shape-shifter urban fantasy, I can only say where it lost me along the way. In the little bit of exploration I did to write the post, it does seem that the bigger groups are now dividing down into sub-genre groupings.
    And there can be advantages, certainly for pre-published writers who aren’t quite sure where their voice fits yet, to being in a more diverse group initially. There’s that opportunity to get feedback on a range of stuff, like trying on five dresses to decide which is right.
    In our group, though we all started off targeting Harlequin MIlls and Boon London based lines, there’s quite a diversity just in that office. And it’s quite possible that a few of us have voices that may be a better fit in one of the North American offices. At this stage, it’s possibly a good thing not to narrow ourselves down too much or we could miss the opportunity that’s right for us.
    How are things going for you?

  10. Janet Says:

    “How are things going for you?”

    I’m still working on a story for the Harlequin Romance line that I started ages ago. (It’s high time I pushed got on and finished it )
    Have you settled on a particular line yet or are you exploring a few other options 🙂

  11. waitingforthecall Says:

    LOL to “have I settled on a particular line yet?”

    Not yet, no. I just haven’t done enough writing this year to have found my voice. My WIP started out aimed at Modern Heat because of the Feel the Heat comp, but I have a funny feeling it may end up more of a Sweet. If I ever finish it that is. I’m getting a bad feeling that the editor on my Comps Slip from Instant Seduction will definitely have left by the time I actually us the thing!

    It’s not so much ideas as motivation to keep writing through the tough times that is lacking. The dreaded First Chapter Syndrome. Since May I have started four different stories, written the first chapter (in one case twice with a slightly different premise), then got stuck in the old “This is rubbish, and it’s not going to get any better if you keep writing” blues. This is exactly what stopped me before in my last serious attempts to write back in the 90’s. If I can just push on and finish a first draft of one of these stories at least I will have something to work with, even if it needs mega editing. That old but true saying- “You can’t edit a blank page”

    I know I can stick with a story- I finished my JanNo and all but finished my Instant Seduction entry before the letter from Richmond arrived NOT asking to see a partial of that story! Thinking about it, the only thing I didn’t finish there was the two big sex scenes- which makes me wonder if that story could work rewritten as a sweet Romance- it has a lot of the right elements and I have just seen one possibility for how to change my starting premise to do it- yippee! How I could rework that story has been in my mind a lot as I think one of the things stopping me from fully engaging with another story was that I hadn’t finished with that couple yet and really didn’t want to let go.

    The current plan is to keep plugging away at my WIP and get past the temptation to keep rewriting the first chapter! I think aiming at publication has taken the fun out of my writing- I want to just recapture that and let my writing and my characters be as outrageous as they want to be.

    I have only just realised- the real biggie for me is getting over the fear of rejection. That’s possibly the true reason I haven’t completed anything. Yes, work has been hell since May and it feels like I’m only just getting my self and my life back, but that’s just an excuse. I could have kept on writing. The truth is I was gutted not to get a request for at least a partial of my IS story, though looking at it later I could see all the areas where t needed improving, so I am not surprised. Oh that’s good to know. Now I understand why my Inner Editor won’t shut up long enough to let me write a sentence even, and why I have become a lot more critical about my writing again. There’s a definite time for that, but first draft is NOT it! Now if only I can figure out what let me keep writing in January and February and get that back again….

  12. Janet Says:

    If you decide to turn your Is story into a sweet romance, maybe we could swap chapters and keep each other on track?

  13. waitingforthecall Says:

    I would love to Janet but it may take a while as I’m not making much progress1 Plus I start a new job in a week!
    Did you have a go at the Modern Heat comp?

  14. Janet Says:

    Yes, but i haven’t had any feedback. Neither has any one else (except the winners) from what people are saying at iheartpresents

  15. […] writing, the option of setting up a similar group or finding a writing buddy is open to anyone. This links to a post I wrote last year about finding a writing group or buddy. There are more suggestions in […]

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