Let me just start out by saying, I’m a HUGE advocate of critique groups. If there was one small gem I could share with any writer it would be: Go forth and become part of a critique group.
I can hear the moans and groans now. “I’ve already tried, but…” and the list of reasons why to avoid a critique group grows by the minute.
“…it was too big”
“…the people were strange”
“…they didn’t get my writing style”
“…I don’t have time”
“…meet new people? Really?”
and so on.
Don’t leave! Let me tell you how I finally, after three years of critique group shopping, found my home with the 7 Evil Dwarves. I even stayed for seven years, an eternity for any critique group.
Writing has been part of who I am for…forever. While in college I thought being the anti-social, reclusive hermit was a pre-requisite for every aspiring writer. I wouldn’t share what I wrote unless I was submitting to publishers. I know (ducking the head slaps), if I could, I’d go back and smack myself for that alone.
Somehow as I was finishing up my first college tour, I managed to come out of my cave long enough to marry my best friend. A few years passed, writing took a bit of a backseat as I finished an advanced tour of college, (yes, professional student did get mentioned once or twice). Writing got pushed back even further when my little family of two, went to three and eighteen months later, to four.
As you can see, insanity was bound to set in and when it finally began popping up in various forms, I knew it was time to turn back to my own self-therapy—writing.
My first problem was nerves. I could write. That part was easy. I could do it hiding in a closet, under a blanket with a flashlight so the little rug crawlers couldn’t find me. I could jot a few lines in-between real work and family-raising time. Writing is a solo adventure, right? Wrong.
My very loving, and patient, hubby finally dragged me out of the house, pushed me out of the moving car and said, “Go spend some time with this Mother’s Writing group.” He didn’t even wait for my response, as if it could’ve been heard over the squealing tires disappearing in a cloud of dust.
I stumbled to my feet and cautiously made my way into my very first writing group. They were great—women from various walks of life, writing in a variety of genres. This first group became the ones who made me realize how valuable a support group (aka critique group) is to a writer.
Feeling bolder, I waved good-bye to that group and began a long journey on my search for “my” critique group. Considering I write Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance, it was a rocky road.
The first group was large, twenty people at a minimum, and every genre under the sun was represented. It was heartbreaking to hear how someone thought my work was “too dark and depressing”, or another couldn’t understand “why anyone would believe magic existed in the real world”. I almost gave up, but do you know what I found?
The core of the 7 Evil Dwarves. These were writers of Speculative Fiction, a term I hadn’t heard used before. Soon, four or five of us decided a smaller group would be more productive. Plus, wouldn’t it help if everyone knew what Spec Fic was?
Our group underwent a great many changes. Anything important always does. It took us almost five years to create a solid, steady group. We had some great members stop and share their creations with us, and then move on. And yes, we’ve had a few entertaining guest, which I’m under threat of death by zombies if I reveal, so I’ll leave it to your imagination. You’ll probably come up with more exciting scenarios anyway.
There were times I was scared to death to set my stuff before my group. The whispers of my very loving and supportive critique group twisted through my mind when I wrote. It helped if I was a few (or more) chapters ahead of where they were critiquing, but when they were right behind me—I found myself overanalyzing every word I typed. I became hyperaware of small edit type things instead of getting the basic story out on paper.
See the Evil 7 were damn good. They caught everything. From how many times I used “ing” to how much I truly suck at math anything (do you know what a polyhedron is? I don’t.). They made great therapists. I mean, how many of your friends would take the time to discuss the nature of relationships between dragons and warlocks, or how manipulative a ghost can be with three young friends? Uh-huh, I thought so.
Then came the point in ever writer’s life, I out grew my group. It wasn’t an easy decision. Seven years I spent with these fantastic writers, mining every bit of advice, hoarding their critiques for more. But things changed, and so did my writing, to the extent that I felt our critiques weren’t quite the chisel they’d once been. So I bid the Evil 7 adieu with many hugs, and back out I went. This time, I found writing partners, two to three individuals I could trust to give me honest feedback, because in the end, that is what writers want and need.
I’m still a firm believer in critique groups. While I struggled to build my worlds into cohesive realities, breath life into my characters, and untangle the twists and turns of my plots, I knew there was this great group who had my back. The Evil 7 might have driven me to screaming when they pointed out how much my new character is channeled my previous one, or questioned the depth of trust between characters who’d been to hell and back, but you know what? Even though the holes they pointed out scared me, I was ever so grateful, because when it was all done and I clicked save for the last time, I had a story that was stronger than what I started with. That’s why I loved my critique group, even when they scared me.