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 - writing.com (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 I 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.