Tag Archives: critique groups

Critique Group Take 2

The first time I attended a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators critique group, I did a great impression of the Bid Red Chicken from Dora the Explorer. See this post for details. In short, I chickened out of reading from my work in progress, a young adult novel titled AESOP’S CURSE. The people sitting around the table were friendly and supportive, but it was my first group critique session ever. My nerves got the best of me, so I chose to listen and offer advice instead of put myself out there.

Well, I’m happy to report that I have shed my Big Red Chicken feathers. I recently attended a meeting of a new SCBWI writer’s group that meets closer to my home, and when it was my turn, I read the first five pages–Chapter 1–of AESOP’S CURSE.

Only a couple of people have read parts of it. My friend Matt read the first few chapters, and I had posted the first fives pages on the YALITCHAT website. I received lots of helpful feedback, which I used to nail down those crucial first chapters. My friend Stacy has read all of it so far. She’s been great, offering encouragement and letting me talk through certain scenes.

So, I have shared it with some people already. Having others read it and give me feedback doesn’t make me nervous. As a former journalist, the write-revise-edit cycle is ingrained in me. I want my novel to be in the best shape possible before I send it to my agent to read. The thing is, everyone who has read parts of it has read it on their own and then sent me comments via email. I’m used to this process.

Reading self-created work aloud in front of strangers is different and nerve-wracking. My sister, who is an artist, understands. As an undergraduate, she would reveal a piece to the class and then stand next to it in silence while everyone looked it over and prepared their comments. Awkward! But a necessary part of the creative process.

Plus, what’s the point in joining a writer’s critique group if I don’t participate fully, right?

When it was my turn to read, my voice was shaky at first. As I went on, though, I sounded less like a robot with the chills and more like my main character, Aaron. My reading fell into a rhythm, rising and falling where it needed to, emphasizing certain words as Aaron would.

When I was done, my critique group offered lots of positive feedback–Thanks!–and some suggestions. Overall, they liked it and wanted to read more. I’m excited to bring the next five pages to our May meeting and hear what the others have written!

Losing My Nerve

Bawk. Bawk.

Is the Big Red Chicken from Dora the Explorer guest writing today?

No.

That sounds represent me at my first ever writing critique group.

I was a big chicken. Uma galinha grande, my mom would say. Un pollo grande, my dad would say. Yes, I can be called a coward in three languages. Impressive, I know.

Truth is, I’m probably being a little hard on myself, but here’s what happened:

I decided to join the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators because I had heard great things about the organization, which has events during the year and offers local writing groups. I wanted to join a critique group for a couple of reasons. My primary reason was to meet and work with other writers. Writing is a solitary act. It’s just me and the laptop. My faithful dog might be snuggled by my side, which is nice, but he’s not great at giving feedback.

Rusty literally supporting my writing

My friends who read for me, on the other hand, are great at giving feedback, but they have busy lives. I sometimes feel guilty adding my writing to their lists of things to do. For example, my longtime friend Matt Eagan and his wife Sarah just had a baby girl yesterday. Welcome Grace Mary Eagan!! I’m not about to ask Matt to read for me at such an important time for his family.

With a critique group, I could attend and know that for a couple of hours once a month, a group of people are ready and willing to read and offer suggestions. That they are strangers is a plus since my parents will praise anything I produce. That’s nice for the ego, but I do need real constructive criticism as I write.

So, I attended my first group on Tuesday, July 19 in Hamden, CT. The second to arrive, I signed in and waited. A dozen people came. After introductions, the coordinator said we would share in the order in which we arrived. He was first to arrive and didn’t have anything to read. So, I was up.

Bawk!!

As much as I wanted to join a group, I wasn’t sure how this would go. I had heard stories, good and bad, about critique sessions. One person I know said he was kicked out of his group. Then, he said he kicked himself out. Either way, that didn’t sound good. I know that when I get published (positive thinking in effect here) I will likely get some rake-me-over-the-coals reviews. Even international best sellers and award winners get those nasty one-star critiques on Amazon and Goodreads. I get that. I would have to deal with that.

But in the moment, there in the Hamden senior center, I chickened out. It’s not that I’m not able to handle criticism. As a former journalist, I was edited daily and often had to rewrite articles multiple times. I have pretty tough skin. I think being the new girl had more to do with it. It’s like going to a party where you don’t know anyone. As soon as you walk in the door, they throw a spotlight on you and ask you to show off your best dance move. The music is blaring and everyone has stopped to watch. I’ve got some moves–at least I did back in the day–and still, I would definitely stand frozen like a deer caught in headlights.

So, I decided to pass. I wanted to observe the group dynamics first and see if I would be comfortable sharing in the future. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. The group was positive and supportive. Those who read received helpful advice and I felt comfortable jumping in and offering some suggestions, too. My plan now is to visit some other local groups to see which one is the best fit for me. Then I plan to attend meetings on a regular basis to build connections with some fellow writers and get the feedback I need.

Next time, I won’t be such a big chicken.