Monday, April 15, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #11: Critique Group

Once you get into the writing process, it's very important to have people you trust read your work and give feedback.  I cannot tell you how many times I have turned in what I sincerely felt was a very good draft, only to have questions and comments come back at me that pointed out that my vision wasn't clear at all.   And I don't mean that in a bad way.  These were excellent questions, excellent comments and they helped me shape a better draft. 

Writing is a bit of a "can't see the forest for the trees."  As writers you focus on small goals so often, that it becomes very difficult to see the big picture with clear eyes.

That said, part of the critique process is knowing what advice to take and what advice to leave.  Sometimes one person feels a scene is too long and another feels a scene is too short.  Sometimes you read critiques and you feel like they just didn't get it at all.  In which case, did everyone not get it?  If so, you didn't present the idea clearly.

Getting critiques can be nerve-wracking as well.  It's never easy to give your work to someone and ask to be judged.  I'm still defensive about it.  But I know I'm defensive about it and I know it's all me and has nothing to do with the critiquer.  So here's what I do:

-Get myself some cocoa
-Read through a crit
-walk away, do something else, mull (Because it always seems more negative the first time you read it.  It seems like they hated it - it's awful!  You gotta get a little space.)
-come back, pull up my original document (with no notes)
-pull up crit and re-read.  (See, it really wasn't that negative.)  Make the easy changes - the no-brainers: like maybe my grammar is off in one sentence or I shifted POV's mid paragraph or my phrasing is awkward.
-if there are suggested changes that you're not sure of, don't do anything yet.  Just let the suggestion percolate in your mind.   It will either fade away or reveal itself to be an idea you can't let go of.
-rewrite and resubmit.

I'm very lucky to be in an excellent critique group.  We call ourselves The Litwits.

Here's three of us at a conference:  Kip Wilson Rechea, me, Ammi-Joan Paquette

Subtract Kip and add Natalie Dias Lorenzi in West Virgina.

We meet online.  Each week one of us submits out piece, either a picture book text or 10 pages of a longer work.  The rest of us have the week to crit and send back.  Everyone sees everything.  For example, if I'm sending a crit of Kip's work back to her, I also send it to Joan and Natalie.  Sometimes I'll see someone else's crit first and I can say something like, "I agree with Joan's comment here but I disagree here."  They're like email discussions.  I've been with these lovely ladies for nearly, what... six years?  Seven years?  Long enough for my pre-schooler to be in fourth grade, a set of twins to come into the world, and Natalie had just had her third child when we formed. I know them.  I sometimes know what to expect of them.  And I trust them to help me develop my work and rip pieces apart so that I can build them up better and stronger.  

Your critique group is your first line of defensive against professional rejection and they are your support group when that rejection does come - because it will.  But when you do get something accepted, you're critique group will hoist you on their (cyber) shoulders and cheer from the mountain tops, because sometimes they are the only people who truly understand how much you've put into your work.

How do you get into a slammin' crit group?
Try SCBWI or the Blue Boards on Verla Kay.  Or, if you'd like to meet with people face-to-face, try your local library or, again, SCBWI might be able to help you out.

Good luck! 

And big hugs to The LitWits!  Can't wait to see you in May!


Claudine G. said...

Wow, six years! That's a lot longer than some relationships. :) I do need a critique group for my MG novel but can't seem to find one. I'll try at Blue Boards. Thanks for sharing, Julie!

Mirka Breen said...

Any group that calls itself the Litwits has wit and lit to spare. And looks too, in this case. (P.S. don't call me sexist for noting this- you posted the pictures!)

Julie_c said...

Hi Claudine - good luck on the BlueBoards. I hope you find a great group.
Hi Mirka - I'll take a compliment any day. Thanks!