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?