Image by aprilzosia via FlickrI was recently writing an email on critiquing to a young writer friend and it gave me the idea for this post, because it's something I've been thinking about lately.
I've read several blog posts by others sending thanks to the members of their online critique groups etc. And this made me realise that many, even most people who work with critique groups or partners, are pairing themselves with others of the writing fraternity/sorority to do so. Well yeah, I hear you say, scratching your head. That's the way it always seems to work. Writers in critique groups with other writers. So?
I just thought I'd mention that that wasn't the way things worked out for me. I did go down the path of trying to join a couple of critique groups after finishing my second novel, one online group and one face-to-face. I'm not sure why I didn't do so earlier. I think I was too focused on just writing! And when I did go through the exercise of trying to connect with other writers, I found the whole process less fruitful than I'd expected.
Main reason? I'm not actually good working with groups. And I don't particularly like getting broad feedback on single scenes or chapters as I write, partly because I don't write consecutively (meaning I often don't start at chapter one and keep going until the end, I write scenes all over the place and fill in the gaps later). And partly because sharing work at an early draft stage is something my inherently perfectionistic personality tends to rebel against. So standard critique groups which meet regularly and share feedback on short pieces of work in early draft form just aren't a good match for me.
There! I've said it!
But I do find it extremely valuable to get feedback on my work, and I sought and received very useful feedback from a core group of beta-readers before I ever joined a writer's critique group. Each of my beta-readers read the entire manuscript at an advanced draft stage. And the key difference between my betas and the members of a critique group is that they are all readers not writers. A couple of them admittedly have dabbled in writing but it's not a major focus for them at the moment, or is something they're fairly new to. They're readers first. Literate people who enjoy books - reading them and talking about them. They're women, which is who I primarily write for. And they already enjoy the genre I write in.
The feedback they give me varies from person to person; some just comment on whether they liked the characters or not, whether they found certain things confusing or got caught up on a particular point. They sometimes identify continuity issues, or highlight something which needs clarification. Others give wonderful and very insightful macro-structural comments. All approach their feedback from a reader's perspective.
Now I'm assuming (because I really don't have much experience with the other side, that is, getting feedback from other writers) that the feedback from the two groups would vary. So I suppose it's a matter of each individual writer working out what sort of feedback they find most valuable and who can best provide that for them. Even if I was to form a critiquing arrangement with another writer, I think I'd always prefer to share a complete manuscript rather than isolated chapters, as I like feedback on a whole project. At least I've finally identified the way I prefer to work, which is a good thing.
I certainly realise that plenty of writers out there benefit from and love having a close-knit critique group who are there throughout their entire writing process for a particular novel, providing feedback and encouragement along the way. Because that's the other big thing regular sharing of work offers to those who need it: motivation to keep writing. That's what makes events like NaNoWriMo such a big success every year.
But I suppose I just wanted to point out something which to me seems fairly obvious, and which perhaps gets a little lost in this blogging world of writers writing about writing for other writers. We're all doing this for the readers, and that's who I want the bulk of my feedback from. They buy books. They read books. A small minority of them may also be writers (who tend to love books too) but most are not.
Have you identified your preferred kind of feedback, and found people who can provide it? What areas have readers of your MS helped you most with?