Focus on a ‘Ladies Who Critique’ Critique Group, Part 2
Jani, Tracy, Ladonna & Juliana met on Ladies Who Critique in 2011. The foursome who reside on three different continents are in contact everyday. I couldn’t wait to learn more about them and their experiences being in a critique group! Find part 1 of their interview here.
LWC: What advice would you give to writers entering a critique partnership or group?
Jani: If you’re thinking about getting a CP or starting a group, talk to people you think might be a good fit. You have to be comfortable and trust your partner with your work, it’s important. Be open-minded. Accept that your work will be critiqued, it’ll be easier to take the feedback that way. Before you enter a partnership or group, get used to the fact that other people will finally read what you’ve written and share their thoughts with you, good and bad. The forums here at LWC are a good place to start and where I met my critique partners. We either talked in the forms or we followed each other from there to our profiles, Twitter, and blogs. This is a website created especially for finding critique partners so feel free to create a forum topic, describe your novel and what you want or need. There are still people looking for partners so you might just find your perfect fit that way.
Tracy: First, be upfront with a potential critique partner. Tell them what you expect and find out what they expect in return. I think you should try to get know the person(s) for a short period of time before exchanging work so you can get a feel for their style and see if it matches what they tell you about themselves. I think after one critique you’ll know if that person is a good fit for you.
Second, be honest in your critique. Don’t beat around the bush, ignore the obvious or go out of your way to candy coat something, doing any of that isn’t helpful and you’ve wasted both your time. My motto is “brutal truth with delicate delivery”. You can be honest but be considerate of that person’s feelings. Imagine how you would like to be presented with something about your work. (Personally I like the Nathan Bransford sandwich rule: positive feedback, constructive criticism, positive feedback).
Third and most importantly, as hard as it is to not take it personally when someone who claims to be your friend is dissecting your work to the point that you question yourself as a writer – do not allow yourself to be down for more than a day. (And yes I will have to repeatedly remind myself of this) That should be all you allow yourself to wallow in self pity. Have that in your mindset when you send out your work. Then take that valuable information that person took the time out of their lives to give you and use it to take your work to the next level. As hard as it is to digest sometimes, no one can do it on their own, I mean, it’s possible but imagine how long it would take you giving your MS’s resting time to gain a fresh set of eyes. How many times have you read something and on the 10th time you just so happened to catch the simplest of errors? Your critique partners are your fresh eyes when you’re tired and weary of reading the same thing over and over but can’t seem to make it better -they can. They’re not trying to tear you down, although at first it feels like it, they are making your work greater.
Ladonna: I think you have to like the person you are working with. I know that seems obvious, but it’s true. If you don’t like or respect them, then you’re not going to value their opinion. You also need to develop thick skin. And know that the person is telling you this because they want to make your writing stronger. There are some people that are mean. If you get one like that, run.
You have to be ready to get the emails of elation, sorrow, and frustration. Writing is hard work and you need to know that someone understands and cares. Writers can and will do this for you.
At the end of the day, you have to remember it is your work. As I tell the girls, keep what you like and toss the rest.
Juliana: I would say to get to know the person you plan to exchange projects with. That’s what happened here, with our group. We met and talked a lot before starting to exchange anything. We knew we would be a good match because we think alike and like the same genres, books and such. And I knew I was in heaven when I found out Jani disliked going to the mall and shopping—like me!
Anyway, you have to be ready to hear things you don’t want to or won’t like, but keep in mind the critic is only trying to help you and you don’t need to follow the suggestions. It’s your work and you decide what stays and what goes. Also, we are all learning … about everything related to the business—about how to critique, the writing craft, the query process, the waiting!
And, most important, respect. Treat the other the same way you would like to be treated. Critiquing is a balancing act between giving and receiving.
LWC: How often do you exchange your work, and what is your structure/ rotation schedule like?
Jani: We don’t have a schedule and I like it that way. You send when you are ready, no pressure. Life happens, so when I send something to be critiqued, I tell the others to get it back to me when they can. While they critique, I’ll work on something else. When I’m the one critiquing, I focus on that one novel and finish it as soon as I can while still balancing it with whatever I’m doing. I don’t expect my partners to drop what they are busy with and focus solely on my work, and to be honest, I don’t want it.
Tracy: There is no schedule, really. I think we just try to prepare each other like, “hey, next month can I send you… ?“ But there have also been some last minute contest entries where we’ve rushed to critique something (usually first 250 words, or a tag line, synopsis) on a deadline. And I think we’ve always come through for one another.
Ladonna: It varies.
I try to finish an ms I’m critiquing within two weeks, but that doesn’t always happen. Life gets in the way.
Juliana: We didn’t set up any schedule and I don’t think we will. When a work is almost ready, we tell each other and see who can start with it. And the ones critiquing give it back when they are finished with it, even if it takes a couple of weeks—we all have life and many other things to take care of 😉
LWC: Do you all write within the same genre? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
Jani: We have Young Adult in common but that’s about all. I write YA Urban Fantasy, Paranormal and Light Fantasy. But I also have an Adult Urban Fantasy that I love and want to get back to soon. I see writing different genres and age groups as a very good thing because it adds a whole different level of perspective when we critique. We always hear that we should read widely. I believe we should critique widely as well.
Tracy: I believe Ladonna, Jani and I are all YA. But we’re all different genres within. My recent work is a paranormal romance, the last MS I critiqued for Jani was Urban Fantasy and Ladonna’s is a Steam-punk. Juliana I believe writes adult sci-fi or urban fantasy.
Ladonna: Yes, but Juliana writes New Adult. I think it is good to critique outside of what you normally write. It gives you a chance to see what is out there. I’ve always gravitated toward MG and YA, but I love to read a lot of adult novels. It’s also good to read anything from fantasy, steampunk, contemporary, etc. You don’t want to put yourself in a box and hinder your growth as a writer.
Juliana: The girls write YA and I write NA and the genre varies: paranormal romance, UF, sci-fi and steampunk.
I think it’s good that we have varied genres. Like with reading outside your own genre, it’ll only strengthen your writing.
LWC: Outside of improving your writing and stories, what benefits do you see in a critique group or partnership?
Jani: We’ve become good friends. It’s nice talking to people that have something so important to you be important to them as well. We commiserate, moan about writing query letter and synopses (I’ve been doing a lot of that this week), and although the timing might be tricky sometimes, we always find a bit of time to talk about random things. One of the great things about the writing community is that there are writers everywhere and there’s always somebody awake and willing to chat. The support is fantastic, especially when it comes to things like NaNoWriMo and contests, sharing great links, and just random awesomeness found around the net.
Tracy: Aside from the critiquing we aren’t just a writing community we’re a support group of sorts (without sounding cheesy). We keep after each other when one of us just might feel like throwing in the towel. We check in on each other when someone’s gone MIA and we’re there with supportive words when they’re needed most.
Ladonna: Friendships, support, and some fun times.
Juliana: I made some great friends. It’s funny, actually. When one of the girls takes long to say something on twitter, we start asking about her lol And we chat about anything. Books, movies, music, family, holidays, guys, you name it. I can’t imagine not talking to them every day.
LWC: Anything else you’d like to share… stories, funny instances, thoughts…
Jani: I’m sure Ladonna and Tracy have had a few laughs while they critiqued my manuscript. Because I’m from South African and they are from the USA, the phrasing I use might not always made sense to them.
Tracy: I can’t recall anything specific but it’s kind of amusing the different slang we all use in our writing. When I was critiquing Jani’s MS there were a few phrases that I was like “huh?” and really, her being from South Africa, they were common to her and were also similar to something we might use here in the States, but really even if we were all from four different parts of the same country we would still have our own local slang.
Ladonna: Remember why you love to write.
Juliana: I have a funny story about Bom Dia (which means Good Morning), but I’m not sure I can tell. One of the girls could kill me =P
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