I attended a critique circle recently and left feeling energized and connected. Outside of my wife, it was my first experience having others read any significant part of Father’s Creed, and it was a worthwhile experience.
Going into the event, I was slightly apprehensive. I wasn’t scared; I’m too old to be afraid of much anymore, other than rollercoasters. (That fear is real.) No, I have confidence enough in myself and my work that I can take criticism and know enough about people to know which people deserve respect and attention.
My concern was for the others. I was prepared to deliver my own critiques in straightforward, non-sugarcoated fashion, but I know not everyone takes criticism well. Yes, this is what we signed up for. Yes, we are all adults, but not everyone always gets that. Luckily, this group got it.
We shared real opinions and everyone gave honest feedback, and not one person got upset. Even when we debated the use of adverbs in dialogue tags, (the consensus being opposed), it was done so in a true attitude of discussion and learning.
Two of the five writers had already published books, which I have to say, did impress me, but neither of them were snooty about it. Neither of them acted superior or presented themselves as experts in the field.
We were all just writers, spanning a few decades, having had different life experiences, but instantly bonded by our love of storytelling and the desire to improve.
We talked about what worked and what didn’t, suggesting alternate beginnings to our stories, and toning down descriptions, or adding more emotion to characters. We complimented each other and gave encouragement, and it was genuine and meaningful.
There’s a difference between a reader’s opinion and another writer’s opinion. Writers share the struggle. We all know the work and the rework needed to create our stories. There is a tinge of camaraderie as we share it all, because every bit of it is personal. No matter how raw or polished, the words we’ve strung together are our effort to create something truly original, representing our hearts and minds on the page. It is only natural that someone might viciously defend any perceived attack on such lending of our vulnerabilities and emotions, and the civil exchange I witnessed was a testament to a writer’s much needed strength to find success.
I have no doubt that we’ll see each other again, and that we’ll have more to share. I look forward to reading more of their work and hearing about what choices they made based on our collective critiques.
How it works:
The organizer set up a file drop location where we submitted 5k words of any part of our novel we wanted reviewed, with a deadline of five days prior to meeting. It’s a good idea to give background to your submitted work or a summary of the whole story, especially if you have a previous book of the same series or if you’re sharing later chapters.
We added notes using Word’s markup and comment features so no one had to decipher hand written messages, and after the meeting we uploaded those to the same file sharing location.
During the meeting, one person was chosen at random to be the first critique recipient and then we went around the table until all had shared their notes. Then that recipient chose the next person to take the critique. It was easy to just move clockwise and I don’t see a need to do it any other way. The meeting ran about two hours, so I don’t suggest having too large a group (only four submissions were made, so even five might go long).
I highly recommend this. Go find or create a critique circle now, and start sharing!
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