Thursday, July 26, 2012

Critique Groups and Editing

I feel like, after a five year hiatus from writing, I'm re-learning the craft all over again. I also feel like I am a much different writer than I used to be. Five years doesn't seem like a lot, but when it's the difference between 17 and 22 it's significant. A lot has happened in my life the past five years, and it's changed my writing quite a bit.

One thing I'm learning is I'm a messy first drafter. I try not to be, but I make lots of mistakes the first go around. I forget to add setting, use lots of overused gestures (my characters tend to smile and shrug and sigh a lot initially), and in The Hostage Heart I have a hard time keeping the tone. I'm trying to walk that delicate balance between Old World styles of speech while still being modern, and it's difficult.

Editing always overwhelms me because of the messiness of my first draft. I am guilty of starting to edit a finished WIP, deciding the whole thing is complete rubbish, and throwing the entire thing in the proverbial trash bin and starting over from scratch.

And then I joined my two critique groups. And I've learned something unexpected. Critique groups are incredibly helpful when it comes to editing.

I'm about two-thirds of the way complete with The Hostage Heart first draft (but seventh version of the story), and it's the WIP I've been taking to my critique groups. Before submitting, I go through and polish those chapters as much as I can. Then, when I get my critique back, I go through and make all the changes I feel are necessary, and polish polish polish some more. The result? I'm biting off my WIP in easily digestible chunks. I have noticed myself feeling much less overwhelmed this time around (although there are still days I want to light my manuscript on fire).

Who would have thought critique groups would help me feel less overwhelmed? Not only are they fun (critique group is tonight by the excited!!! Thursday nights are my favorite) and not only are they helpful, they also are incredibly encouraging.

I've never had a group of writer friends before. Ever. I've had writer acquaintances that I've been friendly with, but they always felt more like mentors than peers (maybe it was because I was just a teenager at the time and they were all successful and published and stuff). Never have I had peers that I feel like I can talk with as opposed to talk to. And it's incredibly helpful and incredibly relieving. I'm a lone wolf in my family and circle of personal friends. No one I associate with on a daily basis even likes to read, much less write. The value of critique groups is amazing. Not only does it help me improve my craft, but it gives me people to talk to about writing as well.

What are your opinions on critique groups? Are they valuable to you or not?


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