Monday, February 21, 2011

Group, Partner, or Solo?

Sounds like a sexual reference, but I swear, this time my mind is clean ;-) This week we're discussing critique groups and do they work for you. My answer is pretty muddled: Yes and No.

In the beginning, when I first started writing, just two short years ago, I thought they were great. Lots of opinions, lots of insights. It quickly became overwhelming. The negative stood out to plague me and I had to sift through the crap to find useful advice.

My first attempt was with two online resources - (WDC) and the critique circle (CC). The former had people who really reviewed (which is how I met and became friends with Greg), a few were more like advanced beta readers, and TONS more trolled for gift points on the WDC system and left me one paragraph of nonsensical gibberish as a review.

CC, on the other hand, gave very in depth reviews, but moved achingly slow and following their guidelines I'd be shifting my novel through their system for six months or more. Some of the critiques I got on that site just about crushed me. I had published erotica writers slamming my present tense, my style, my voice -- pretty much hating everything I wrote, until they got to the sex parts. (I had to join their group b/c site guidelines regarding the sex scenes in Vampire Vacation)

Once they read the sexy parts, they grudgingly admitted I could write. And I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that it's they held such opinions possibly because they don't have sex (judging by most of their pics I'd say the last thing they chased was a donut), they just write about it, and so reading a piece from someone who actually has sex blew them away.

Nasty bitch today, C.J.? 

No, not really. Reading a woman write male on male erotica involving anal sex when she's never had it is very obvious. And they said some nasty shit to me about my work, so I'm glad I bailed on the site.

Next, I tried forming a paranormal writing critique group on yahoo. It worked out well and I met some great ladies I still keep in touch with, but again it moved slow. By this point in my illustriously short writing career (about two months in), I joined Romance Writers of America (RWA) and immediately joined a slew of specialized sub chapters.

I have to admit, hands down, the best writers I've met to date are associated with RWA. Professional, hardworking, honest and thick skinned. The best ones focus on the work and never let emotion or arrogance come into play. That's not to say I didn't meet some cruel judges in contests who enjoyed hiding behind their anonymity to bash my attempts, or some lazy bitches who would spend fifteen minutes critiquing a piece of my work when I spent 90 minutes on theirs (hello - did you not notice the time stamps in your track changes?). Overall though, joining those chapters opened up a world of possibilities for me.

But again, these groups moved too slow. I was focused on my craft 40 plus hours a week and needed a partner who was better than me. Sure, at month two that was easy to find, but by month four I needed a real editor. Not someone telling me their opinion on my characters and my plot - but someone helping me to hone my craft.

I hooked up with a writing partner who taught me more than any other person in the industry to date. We worked exclusively together for about nine months and I was so sad to see the relationship end. While she struggled with plot holes and content in her manuscript, I learned the art of line edits and got a better grasp on punctuation. She taught me some of what twenty years in the industry as a journalist and editor had taught her.

This woman single handedly whipped my writing into shape and made me the writer I am today. Without her, I'm not sure where I would be today. Things, unfortunately, came to an end, I'll spare you the drama, but we are at least civil and supportive of each other when we speak online.

This past summer, I tried to crit with Jen and Ana, both strong writers with different skills to bring to a critique. It didn't work out because of a new venture I launched, Everything Erotic, which has become a huge time commitment. I stretched myself too thin and something had to give -- and with all the editing I was doing for the team I couldn't take on more.

Thankfully, those writers have returned the favor in spades. Anytime I ask for a read I'm so touched I have three or four ladies jump in without a moments hesitation. One or two often tease they have to read my work two to four times to spot any mistakes because they get so pulled into the story they forget to be critiquing it. I can't tell you how amazing that is to hear after the months and months of crap I used to have spewed at me via the internet.

In eighteen short months, I found a home. A home among the writers I associate with on various group blogs and online forums. They tell me their thoughts straight, but politely.  They often remind me to slow down, stop working, rest, focus on getting better... and they share their amazement at how much I can do while being so ill. They cheer me on and give me the highest compliment a writer could ever receive: they tell me inspire them.

Sure, the convenience of the internet has made the publication and small successes I've achieved a reality, but it also provides a mask for some people to hide behind and spew their anger and hate to the world. I'm incredibly grateful that on my comparably short writing journey I've met such talented people who are proud to associate with me.

Thanks to each and every one of you. And you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I'd do anything in my power to help you and your career at the drop of a hat. After all, that's what friends do for each other.


  1. Sorry, C.J., but the title of your piece made me think it was the next book in the "VV" saga.

    Seriously, though, glad to see that you stuck with the critiquing and got that writing partner. I probably need to show some more discipline and stick-to-it-tiveness (yes, I made up that word when I was a full-time sports writer).

    Anyway, congratulations on all your success. You've gotten a lot further in two years than I and many others have gotten in 30 years.

    P.S.: Does Drew get any from Emiko or that tart-tongued werewolf wench Lori?

  2. I've been through most of the same writing groups/experiences you have and had similar experiences.

    The one that bugs me that you didn't mention is when everyone jumps on the 'issue' bandwagon. Someone critiques your story and finds something that bugs them. Even if it wouldn't have stood out to anyone else int he group normally, suddenly everyone sees it and you don't know if it's an issue or just a mob mentality reaction.

    But the experience was valuable, and I wouldn't have the critique partners I do now if it weren't for all of that. And I do need that one-on-one time. Just not so big on the group thing. And you're very luck you've found your own circle :-)

  3. Hi, C.J. I have never had the opportunity to work in any groups, so I came by to see what there was to it. Sounds like anything else, there's both positives and negatives. Glad to see you have come through all of that stronger and successful.
    Thanks for sharing both sides of that story. I'm sure it will help others,


  4. Hey, Greg! No and No on your questions regarding The Hunt ;-) Thanks for the congrats, you're one of the first people I met on WDC and I'm glad we became friends.

    Loralie - I think what you're describing involves more of an open discussion where everyone is privy to each others crit on one piece, correct? The groups I've been in only one has worked that way, but I found it was more of others being lazy and not really examining the piece critically but riding on the opinions of others for ease. I can see how it would seem like a mob reaction! No fun!

    And, in all honesty, I can't say I found my own circle so much as made it. I only allowed writers in whom I trusted. Being burned in the past made me wary.

    Jimmy - just like anything in life, right? What doesn't kill you makes you stringer ;-)

    Thanks for commenting everyone!

  5. This subject matter has come at a great time, as I have been seriously thinking of forming my own small, critique group.

    I kinda have gone through the same circles you have, CJ. Writing all my life, I didn't take it from hobby to serious until 2009.

    I learned early, that when it comes to critiques, not everyone knows how to give them.

    Equally, there are a lot of jealous (and over zealous) writers out there, ready to strike with scathing remarks and low down attacks that have nothing to do with the writing, per say, as to the content.

    Sad, but true. I have the physiological scars to prove it.

    Starting out a couple years ago, in my innocents, I truly believed 'writers were writers' and surely there would be no prejudice when asking for help with grammar, POV and scene arcs. So I trouped forward into four different groups.

    The first was on BIG mistake. Nobody wanted to critique M/M even though the scenes I asked for help on were NOT romantic or erotic in nature. I was with them for 6 months. I did 124 damn good critiques. In return, I received 6 mediocre ones.

    So, I tried out a very nice yahoo critique group, Rose Colored Glasses - in which I did receive some excellent critique on my non-romantic/erotic scenes. Every two weeks we handed in scenes to be critiqued - ours would go out to three, and we had three to do ourselves in 5 day period. That went well, until someone ripped me a new butt hole three times in a public post - over something not story or critique related. Embarrassed, (yeah, I am a shy one) I left. I wasn't there for drama.

    At the same time, I was in another yahoo critique group, - Avoid Writers Hell. There were three 'published' authors who worked with us 'puppies' - and after two months with them, it was HELL. The Bitter writers tore at stories and each other. When I (and a few lucky others) left that group, I felt like a rape victim, and couldn't write for months after wards.

    Last, I tried working with an erotic critique group on Savvy Authors, but it was hard to find people to 'commit' - I would send my scene to someone and NEVER get a critique back. Or, I would ask for a critique of POV, flow and grammar ONLY - and I would get something back that was everything but. Or it would come back with complete drabble and everyone knows THAT doesn't help a writer at all.

    In retrospect, I've had more success with one on one critiques - but those were done either as a favor from an already published author (who wouldn't have time to take me on as a regular) or something I have won in a contest. Oh, and there was my old local RWA group, who once a year would hold critique night in groups of 4. That was fun, but afterwards, nobody seemed to have the time to keep it up.

  6. Great subject, CJ, and you certainly did it justice.

    You accurately point out the highs and lows of being a writer. If, after enduring all this, you still love to write, well then, my friend, the world is your oyster, right?

    Fun to be on the path with you. I'll have more to say on Wednesday.

  7. C.J. you are an inspiration. I wish I had been at your level two years out. Wait till you have five years behind you and see where you are then. I was shocked when you told me how long you'd been writing because your skills are way beyond the time you've been at it. You rock, girlfriend.

  8. Aww, that was such a sweet post. :) That group you and Ana and I made is still up on Savvy LOL.

  9. George, I feel your pain, brother. Let me know if you'd like help finding a good group to crit with. I have writers contacting me asking if I can join them or if I have time to help and I just don't right now. So I know there are lots of people out there looking.

    Sharon - thanks and I look forward to your post on Wed. I know you do the in person crits Greg talks about and I've only done the face to face with my old writing partner. She and I used to get so keyed up with the energy of brainstorming and such, it was great.

    Joan - thanks so much, my friend. You make me feel like a super hero ;-)

    Hey Jen! I've felt guilty about us not being involved in the crits on there anymore -- and I haven't spent much time on Savvy lately, even though I love it. Just too many things in the days sometimes.

  10. Hi C.J. - another great post... My type of critique: one-on-one; one good partner who can push and challenge you to achieve your full potential. It's a responsibility on both parts and it seems you made the best of the opportunity. :)

  11. Thanks David - and I loved yours today with Oscar quotes!