Monday, January 19, 2009

If its good advice why isn't it helping...

So the other day I laughed alot at Joshilyn Jackson's post and I nodded alot too. She said smart things about writing critique groups - about belonging to a group whose writing skills can help you grow your own. I have a friend who belongs to a functioning group where the members have been making a positive difference to each other's writing for years now. But I have to say I think her group is rare. I love writing groups for the sense of community they give me. Writing is a solitary occupation and I am a social creature. Other writers understand best the difficulties of this industry. The best inside info comes from other writers. But while I've received some good advice from members of critique groups I've belonged to over the years, ultimately I have too many misgivings about the benefits. Thanks (again) to US agent Janet Reid, I swung over to this post at moments in crime to read their opinion on critique groups.

A writer's critique will always be influenced by their own style, voice, skills, taste and reading background and by their beliefs and opinions. I've read and been told to just take the useful stuff i agree with and discard the rest but sometimes all it does is sew niggling seeds of doubt. Is it just a matter of taste or is that part of my story a brontosaurus-sized fundamental flaw? And when one person loves something that someone else loathes - aargh - I want to run screaming for the hills.

When I've taken my writing to a group, what I've always really wanted to know is: - do you like the story, are you interested, do you feel compelled to read on, is it believable, do you care. It's the story - how everything comes together - plot, characters, voice, style - that I worry most about. Okay, of course I am also concerned with my writing skills; technique is important (although as another writer friend and I were discussing last night, mostly ignoring the rule of show-not-tell hasn't prevented one YA novel from selling in the millions) but my main question as I go along is 'does the story work'. And of course this kind of feedback is totally subjective too. Think of how many books on shop shelves don't spin your dials enough for you to buy them. One person's 'OMG you have to read this, its the best thing ever' is another person's 'ho hum'. So if you find your critique group has improved your writing, I say - you lucky thing! If it hasn't, don't fret. Its okay not to belong to a group, you can write a great novel without one. Or as Blaize Clement at moments in crime suggests, maybe your group could work in a different way. Experiment with exercises or just make it social and information sharing.

1 comment:

Jane Smith said...

I've found it very difficult to find a physical writing group to belong to--there don't seem to be any near me with writers of my own genre, or my own attitudes to writing or criticising. Having said that, there are several great places online that I've found very useful: and conversely, it's through criticising the work of others that I've found out the most about my own work. Not all of it good...!