Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Help! My baby is ugly

Imagine you've just given birth. It's the happiest day of your life, and you are the proud mama or papa of a beautiful new baby. Now imagine, an associate comes to see you, flowers in hand, and full of anticipation to see your new bundle of joy.

As he zooms in on your precious package, he stiffens, throws down the flowers and says, "Oh... my... word, that's got to be the ugliest baby I've ever seen."

Horrifying experience? I should say. And that's exactly what a writer risks every time he sends his work out for critique. The chance that one of his critique partners might say..."Excuse me, your baby is ugly."

For writers, there is nothing more personal than their manuscript, and the words they put down on the pages are indeed their "babies." I am blessed to have critique partners who on occasion have insulted my baby. But, it's getting better. The more I write my baby goes from grossly deformed to an occasional bout of diaper rash. I'm also fortunate to have critique partners who leave their egos at the door and say, "This is working," and vice versa.

I've heard some writers say they've left critique groups and they prefer to write alone. While others claim they can't write a book without them. So, what about you? What do you think of critique groups? What works for you and what doesn't? And has anyone ever insulted your baby and lived to tell about it? I'd love to hear your stories.


Misty Evans said...

Donnell, your babies are never deformed or ugly. They are beautiful, living, breathing stories right from the start. I love your passion and it shines in your manuscripts!

Magnolia said...

Crit groups are like preparing your baby for a pageant.

You want as much help as you can getting your baby ready to look as pretty as possible.

I think that there are two kinds of crit groups. Ones with a group of people who are there to help and support one another, to help one another take off the rough edges of words to find the diamond beneath.

Then, there are crit groups that are more of a place to hang out on line. Lots of talk about writing, but no actual writing. Not a lot of structure.

I value my crit group because they're not afraid to tell the truth, but it's not done with ego, it's done to help. I've learned a great deal about writing and about myself as a writer.

When looking for a crit partner or group, I always advise writers to first scope out the ratio of unpublished members to published members. Learning from someone who is further up the publishing ladder than you are can be extremely helpful.

I would much rather be told my baby's ugly before I enter her in the pageant. : - ) That way, I can 'fix' her hair, adjust her clothing, polish her right up.

Theresa said...

Hi Donnell,
Great topic. MY babies are never ugly . . . perhaps a little homely after freshly birthed. I told my OB that Alli looked like a slimy blue smurf, but I was sure she would clean up quite well. He was offended on her behalf, but I was right. And look at her today!

With a little cleaning up, my books turn beautiful quickly too. Just because agents or editors sometimes don't recognize the beauty or know what to do with it is a little frustrating, but if I find out where they need help, often a trip to the orthodontist and better parenting helps tremendously.

Re critique groups. They don't work for me. What works best, is having a handful of writing --and nonwriting--buddies to brainstorm with and read full manuscripts (at various stages of revision).

My 2 cents!

Donnell said...

Ah, Misty, while you are extremely good for my ego, my pragmatic side says there's a reason God gave us the 9-month gestational period. Thank you ;)

Margaret, woohoo! Beauty pageant is the perfect tie in. And I like what you say about published authors; I have three in my group. However, my unpublished critique partners give equal and stellar advice, which I greatly pay attention to. I think my published CPs will tell you my unpublished CPs helped them get published.

T, understood your preference is not to critique. However, no one listens to input like you do to make her story better. You take input and criticism, you just don't do it in a formal setting; Plus, you give darn good critiques!

Edie said...

Some writers don't like your voice, and if that's the reason it's best not to have them as CPs. Nothing you do will satisfy them unless you change your voice for them.

I love my CPs. Neither of them try to change my voice, and vice-versa. There's a way to critique, commenting on the good stuff as well as point out what's not working. That's how we do it.

And I'm sure your baby is adorable. :)

Leslie Ann said...

Hi D,
You're right about our babies...I've grown a thicker skin, but still I don't want anyone really to tell me it's ugly.

But when they do...my trusted handful of readers (two of whom are members of Five Scribes) I know they're telling me so my babies can go on and win that beauty pagent.

I'd rather be told the truth any day by trusted writers than not...even when it hurts.


beppieharrison said...

Am particularly ambivalent about crit groups as mine is sort of -- well, sort of. I was asked to join it by a friend I'd met at our GDRWA chapter, but she has left romance writing at least temporarily to do a straight historical. We have one "serious" writer, whose poetry and flash fiction is beautifully written but makes me feel like a fool because I can never figure out what on earth she's writing about. We have another (female) writing straight suspense fiction, and two men, one of whom is an ex-fighter pilot and macho down to his toenails (not that I've seen them, but some things you can sense) who writes shoot-em-up-sort-of-James-Bondish w/o the women and the other is presently writing a wildly comic mystery suspense. Both the gentlemen regularly begin their crits of my stuff (contemp romance/single title) by saying that they wouldn't get caught dead reading this stuff, but for what it is (!!!!) it's well written -- except that the ex-fighter pilot is good at catching bits of illogic or overwriting, and the other guy picks on when I've portrayed the male mind (or at least his) erroneously.

Now. Is the male point of view valuable enough to be worth the irrelevancies? And am I any good at critting genres I know little about? That's the stuff that has me muttering to myself.

Donnell said...

LA, you are in great hands having two of the Scribes to give you feedback! As are they to get your insights. And what a great mindset to want the truth and not just praise. Sign of a pro, girlfriend!

Beppie, thanks for bringing up the opposite sex as a CP. I have two critique groups, my romance, romantic suspense side and my mystery side and the men in my on line group have been fantastic. What a respectful, but intuitive bunch. And this has to do with leaving ego at the door, not thinking I write something better than someone else.

Poetry is often more subjective than straight writing as is literary work, deals with lyrical flow, subtext and other hidden meanings. Some of the best CPs I've ever had were men. They might not like or know romance, but they do know men and male speak and when it's too unbelievable or yikes too corny, they'll be the first to get out the A & D ointment ;). If you can deal with their obvious prejudice and use their comments to advance your work, you're in a great position. I hope it works out! Thanks for posting!

Donnell said...

Edie, when did you sneak in there :) Thanks for complimenting my baby. LOL. She's in the nursery hidden in the bassinet. I like the way your critique group does it very much. I'm guilty of line editing (a little). I try not to bring in so much that the CP gets intimidated, throws up his hands and stops writing. When you edit, you cross the critique partner line -- I know, I know -- this is debatable too -- but I don't want to mess with a critique partner's voice. Everyone one of us if we took a sentence would write it differently ;)