Secrets of a Healthy and Happy Critique Group | Interview with Gabriela Lessa
Gabriela Lessa is the founder of a critique group of six wonderful women. She tells us a little about how she has kept the group thriving for almost a year, and how she couldn’t do this writing thing without them.
Can you tell us a little about your critique group?
My critique group started in August of 2010, so we’ve been together for a year now. Back then, I decided I couldn’t do this alone, and I needed support if I was ever going to finish my manuscript.
So I blogged about it, tweeted and searched on places like Query Tracker and She Writes. I got four great girls back then, but one left shortly after we started because of time constraints. Then we got two others, and those two left early this year. And then we got two more. So right now there are six of us. Four of us have been together from the beginning, and two joined in May. It’s been working very well!
We’re all girls (not that we have anything against boys, it just happened this way). Most of us write women’s fiction / chick lit / contemporary romance, but there’s also YA, romantic suspense and sweet romance. We prefer genres we’re more familiar with, but we accommodate our girls’ needs and creativity.
How many CP’s do you recommend having and why?
That’s a very personal thing. You have to ask yourself a few things: How often are you hoping to submit your pages? How many opinions can you handle? How many manuscripts are you willing to read?
In our case, each week is someone’s turn, so each of us ends up submitting about 50 pages every 6 weeks. Of course, if we had fewer people, we could submit more often. It works for us because we’re all very busy and, unfortunately, we can’t write that fast, but it probably wouldn’t work for people looking for a faster pace. So it all depends on how much you have already and how fast you write.
Also, with a larger group, you get more opinions. I consider that a great thing, but I know some people would freak out with five different takes on the same manuscript. What works in this is that if one girl doesn’t catch a mistake, someone else will. And you can compare. If one doesn’t like something, you can see what the others said about it and come to your own conclusions. Again, that works for me, but some people might find it overwhelming.
We’ve become a sisterhood, really, and we’ve learned what are each other’s strengths and weaknesses. This kind of group love works perfectly for me. But I know people who have just one or two critique partners and that works very well too.
How much of a time commitment is your critique group?
We read about 50 pages a week. So it’s not too much time. And we’re very understanding. If anyone needs to skip a turn or turn in a critique a little late, no one complains.
Can you tell us the secrets of a happy and healthy critique group?
I think understanding is the main thing. You can’t expect everyone to always have time, or pages to submit. In any relationship with a group, you have to be flexible, and critique groups are no exception. And knowing how to be honest without offending, and hearing honest opinions without being offended.
If you can’t take critique, don’t join a critique group. And if you can’t be honest with your critique partners, you’re not helping them improve.
How do you handle conflicting feedback from different CP’s?
Compare, compare, compare. Of course you usually take majority into consideration. If everyone loves one thing and one person hates it, chances are that person is an exception and you can’t focus on that. After all, you’ll never please every single person, even after you’re published. But as I said, you get to know people. From their writing and their comments, you know what they’re really good at. So I usually try to take that into consideration too. If it’s the girl with the most amazing character building in my group and she says something about my own character building, I’ll pay attention to that, even if no one else noticed.
The important thing is not to get defensive. Our first instinct is to take the compliments out of each critique and think “well, but that person liked it, so I don’t have to change it”. Sometimes you need the change even if half the group liked it.
Your CP gives you a great suggestion, but one that will involve lots of re-writing if you are to implement it. Use it or lose it?
A great suggestion is a great suggestion. Why dismiss something that could make your story better?
After receiving a critique, how do you go about the rewriting process?
First I check the easy stuff to fix, like typos, phrasing, etc. Then I go to the development part of it. I analyze the critique from each girl before I do anything. If you change as you get them, you’ll make a mess that might not add up properly. Once I’ve read all the content suggestions, I take a step back, decide what I’ll use and how I’ll do it, and then make the changes.
Aside from giving you technical support, how has having critique partners helped your writing?
In every single way possible. I’m completely dependent on my girls. We cheer each other on, we give advice, we help with everything the other girls need. Queries, research, reality checks, ego boosting, butt kicking… We’re there for each other every step of the way. Can’t live without my girls. I might’ve given up on my manuscript by now if it wasn’t for them.
How do you avoid taking a critique personally? Is this something you learned or have you always been able to separate your personal self from your writing?
Well, we’re never really able to separate personal from writing, because writing is such a personal thing. But we have to. It might be disappointing at first to get a harsh critique, but when that happens, I just have to step away for a bit and digest it. We’re all very respectful and I’ve never gotten mad at any of the girls. You just have to know they’re only trying to help, even if it sometimes hurts to hear.
What advice do you have for writers who are considering finding a CP?
Know what you’re looking for. Don’t just stumble upon a critique group. Make sure their schedule works for you. Make sure you can properly critique the genres they write in. Know what you want and don’t stop looking until you find it. And when you do? Really dive into the experience. It’s wonderful.
Gabriela Lessa is a Brazilian editor, writer, insomniac and word nerd. Her love for critiquing and editing led her to start offering editing services, which she’s quite thrilled about. To learn more about her, you can visit her website www.gabrielalessa.com and follow her on Twitter (@gabilessa).
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