Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Art of Critique


Even if you write in a cave on the side of a mountain, eventually (if your plan is to be published) your work is going to be critiqued. That critique may come from a contest, a critique group or partner, an editor, and agent or a review. That's probably why it's good to develop that rhino hide early with a critique group. So let's chat about critique groups today.




I won't lie to you. You've got to kiss a lot of frogs to find the right group, that special chemistry that works for you. And...you may never find it. Or like Mr./Ms. Right you may click at first and then you drift apart. You have different goals or you've grown and changed but they haven't. Or you may simply fall out of love. It happens. 




 Let's talk about the types of  critique groups first:

1. Social: Since most critiquing is now done via email this group is disappearing. But for future reference let me define as I have often participated in this group. You gather and drink beverages and eat delicious treats, chat and gossip and oops you ran out of time to critique.



2. Pat you on the back: This type of group doesn't really critique. They don't know how. Often they are all new writers, so what happens is your pages have lots of smiley faces. That's all.


3. Yank your heart out:This group is all about the red pen. Complete focus on the negative and you end up with both your self-esteem and your pages in shreds.


4. Constructive Criticism: The balanced group. Give and take with the ability to point our your strengths and areas that need improvement.

And in every group you will occasionally stumble upon one of these very dangerous critiquers:

Be warned!


  • The Rules Monitor-she knows everything and loves to tell you "the rules", often and loudly.
  • The Voice Stealer-she is so generous she rewrites your entire book for you.

  • The Hater-hates everything but offers no reason or constructive ideas for improvement.

Don't let the pitfalls discourage you. A good critique match is a truly a blessing. Hand and hand you help each other grow and move toward HEA (publication). 





How A Good Critique Group Should Work:
  
Accountability and critique are the goals, so as you start your group, also set some ground rules.

Decisions, decisions. Will you meet online or in person? How often will you meet/exchange pages? What is the turnaround time?Will you cap your group membership? How many pages will you sub? Is line editing expected? Must you bring fresh pages each time?

 I have found that keeping the group genre specific or even sub genre specific will  increase group productivity.

Some groups have rules that indicate that a member may only receive critique if they sub pages. Others drop members who do not sub pages according to the groups productivity quotas.  Anyone care to share rules your group has?




  How To Critique:

 The Sandwich Technique is the general guideline used for critique groups and for judging contests. Surround your constructive criticism meat with slices of positive reinforcement.


Additionally, avoid these phrases, YOU MUST, YOU SHOULD, YOU SHOULD NEVER. Because really, unless you are the GOD OF CRITIQUING there is no such thing as must, should, never.

Instead offer phrases such as, 'Please consider,' Think about this,' or 'Look at it this way.' 

 Newer writers need more positive reinforcement but you'll find as you mature you actually gloss over the compliments looking for the meaty critique comments, because you long to really dig deeper and improve your story.

Keep these elements in mind as you critique. Address them only if they confuse you or pull you out of the story. Don't critique just to critique. What you'll find is that you will most often address those topics that are or have been your own problem areas. Frankly, I've never understood this phenomena but it's true every time.

GMC

Characters and Characterization

Theme

Dialogue

Pacing

Voice

Setting

Historical Accuracy

Grammar and Spelling 

Synopsis

The beauty of a seasoned group is eventually you will discover everyone has a different eye. One member may be very good at line editing. Another member is helpful at plot storming. One might be a talented grammarian. Or maybe you have a POV goddess in your midst.



Here's some insider tips for when you first start critiquing (also applicable on the contest judging circuit):

1.Comment unto others as you would like to be commented.

2. Always provide feedback with examples.

3. When dealing with a new writer, don't devastate them. Pick one or two areas and focus on that. POV and characterization for example. You didn't learn it all in one critique and neither will they. Don't leave them hopeless.


And a final note:  It's really a good idea not to allow critique partners to bring the same pages back to be critiqued for two reasons:

a. It forces them to keep writing and not just rewriting the same pages.

b. If the group never sees the pages again, it allows the writer not feel compelled to change something the group mentioned that they don't agree with AND prevents any member from being offended that their critique wasn't applied.  It also prevents critique group dependency.



 Which segues nicely to our next topic~





 Don't Become One of These Critique Partners:







  • Fearful Writer -The writer who doesn't trust her voice. Everything she sends out must be critiqued and re-critiqued on and on. So at her tearful plea you are up until midnight reading pages for her and ignoring your own work.
  •  First Pages Writer-The writer who keeps bringing the same pages back to group.You do that writer a disservice if you allow this.
  • Defend the Work Writer-BUT! Always a but! Always a long explanation of why. Don't allow it, because the reader won't either.

I might be wrong but I think only one or two Seekers are in active critique groups though many if not all have Beta readers. A Beta reader is defined in detail here. It can be a critique partner, a trusted friend, a reader or fan who does a final read through.


Why many authors drift away from critique groups after publication:

1. Edtiorial critique comes first-Your editor really is your bottom line critique partner. Often it becomes frustrating after you sell to present things to your critique group and have them not understand what your editor wants. It can be more productive to eliminate the middle man.



2. Time constraints-Often the turnaround is so tight on projects or portions of projects there simply is no time for more than a quick read by a trusted Beta reader.



Many successful writers do not participate in critique groups. It's your choice.

But today in Seekerville, if you are actively looking for members for your online group, or if you want a partner or if you would like to start a group drop us a line at seekers at seekerville dot net and we'll see if we can match you up.

Keep in mind that the  FHL chapter of RWA  and ACFW also have critique groups and mentoring match ups for new writers.




Tell us about your critique group and if your group is chosen I'll gladly send them each a copy of my latest release, Mending the Doctor's Heart or if they have it a copy of Missy Tippens' Georgia Sweethearts, both April releases from Love Inspired.



And to one brave writer who says they want it, a first ten page critique(contemp, historical, YA, or WF). Winners announced in the Weekend Edition.





133 comments:

Natalie Monk said...

Commenting tonight because I won't have a lot of computer access tomorrow.

...Wow, Tina! This post is what my artist brother would call "saturated." Condensed, straight to the point and every tidbit is overflowing with good stuff.

I joined ACFW Scribes at the beginning of May and have learned a lot already--about writing and about myself as a critter and receiver of critiques. I can feel the skin getting tougher and the space between, "Gasp? How could they?" and, "You, know, they're absolutely right," getting shorter. :)

Oh, I have a question: Critique Group vs. Critique Partner. Do you have some quick pros and cons of each? With a larger group, depending on the individual group rules, it seems like there wouldn't be much time for writing between critiques. With a critique partner, you've only got one opinion, though it would probably be simpler to work one on one. Any thoughts?

Tina Radcliffe said...

Natalie, you answered your own question. Typically critique partners evolve out of critique groups. You have to kiss a lot of frogs.

It takes time to find someone who gets your writing and is willing to take your career as seriously as their own.

Tina Radcliffe said...

I will add that it really is a good idea to stick with a group until you get some experience under your belt-unless the one on one is a mentoring situation with an experienced critiquer.

When you are new to critiquing you risk the chance of not growing if you are with another new writer.

Natalie Monk said...

Haha! Ok. That does make sense. Thanks!

May the K9 Spy (and KC Frantzen) said...

Super most excellent post.
I currently have betas... Gosh, an image of gorgeous fluttery floaty fighting fish popped into mind. :)

One question - What is "sub" ??

I'm certain to have missed it somewhere. Would appreciate some 'splainin'

Really, an excellent post by an excellent author. LOVED your latest and greatest! Really. Thank you for writing it!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Thank you, K.C and the adorable and furry, May.

Sub = submit

May the K9 Spy (and KC Frantzen) said...

ahhhh.

Thank YOU! I'll go re-read...

("") ("") 2 paws way up from May. Time for night night in our neck o' da woods...

May the K9 Spy (and KC Frantzen) said...

Yeah... Okay I get it now... I'll let Mom know.

In my latest, there is a boomer a.k.a. sub a.k.a. submarine... I knew that couldn't be right. Then I thought about substitution... Nahhh.

SUBMIT! Ah... A difficult concept for a Schnauzer, I must say...

Nancy Kimball said...

I kissed a lot of frogs. And I'm sure was a frog for even more authors, haha. BUT... it was totally worth it. Out of that I have three trusted partners (we don't even have rules anymore. Send me what you need and I'll tell you how fast I can do it.)
With the new WIP I have, I am actively waging a full scale war to make it as market friendly as possible. Therefore I am subbing to the large online ACFW Critique Group Scribes (Waving at Natalie!) as well as my usual partners because those new critiquers are doubling as beta readers. I needed to cast a wider net and I'm so blessed IT IS WORKING!
That said I needed that sandwich reminder Tina because it's been so long since I've critted for anyone but my partners, that we're used to focusing just on what needs fixing for the sake of time.
It's also a really cool feeling when your crit partners are finaling in contests. We share the successes as much as the stings.

Tina Radcliffe said...

YAY, Nancy!!! Love those HEA stories that come out of those frog experiences.

Way to go. And thank you Lord for those willing Beta readers!!

Jackie said...

Morning Tina,

You gave us some great tips, thanks.

I do appreciate getting crits back marked up in red. I know the other person has worked hard on my sub. It takes a lot of time to give good critiques, and I always appreciate receiving a good one.

Thanks for sharing today.
Jackie

Bridgett Henson said...



Unfortunately, I'm still searching for that prince among frogs. lol!

Enter me for the critique.

Bridgett Henson said...

Blogger ate half my comment...Ugh!

This post is jam packed. Love it.

I've known...The voice stealer, The rules monitor and The hater.

But thankfully, I've stumbled upon an ego booster beta reader. She loves everything I write. It doesn't matter how good or bad. Lol!

Julie Hilton Steele said...

Aha! Don't send back the same pages over and over. Yep, best advice ever.

I have been really blessed to find writing critters who have become good friends through the Internet. Who knew? I feel like I have pen pals like I did back in elementary school.

We are all at different stages of our writing life which has the advantage of giving perspective. I also appreciate that we are a safe space for each other.

I also have mentors, take advantage of critiques when offered and constantly listen to the wisdom of others.

I think the most important thing to realize is, as you pointed out, this is an evolutionary process!

No need for the books since I read and loved them. But put me in for the critique.

Peace and thanks for such a thoughtful post, Julie

Tina Radcliffe said...

Good morning Jackie. A wise woman appreciates a red pen.Nothing worse than a critique with NO comments.

Have a great work day!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Bridgett, it does take a long time to find that match, doesn't it?

Tina Radcliffe said...

Julie, you are amazing. Started off as a reader a mere three years ago and now you are on your way WRITER!!!

Connie Queen said...

Ha, Bridgett, I've know all of them too.

Tina...I have 2 critique partners, but the last year or so, we haven't done much critiquing. We can send out writing to each other anytime we need it. I would much rather critique in person, but there's no one that close. I meet w/ one partner every month or so and discuss writing and our stories, but normally don't bring pages.

I used to meet w/Lena Nelson Dooley's house, but it's about an hour and a half drive (if there's no construction) and cost me about $15 in toll fees.

My favorite thing Lena always tell you after she give you a suggestion, "You can choose to leave it like it is, it's your story...If you want to ruin it, go ahead..." This is always followed by round of laughter. At her group, you can bring up to 10 pages, every author read her pages out loud, and brings enough copies for everyone to mark up. Lena been doing this most Thurs. night for years in her home. Awesome lady.

Jenny Blake said...

I enjoyed the post after talking with someone recently who has had critique partners. Her downside was that one she worked with she spent time helping and then when she wanted to send her her own book the other lady told her she didn't have time. I have hear a few other stories where this sort of thing has happened too.

Does having a reader as a beta reader help? I know I dont know the editing side of books but I know what I do and don't like. (like pacing etc). (no not offering to be a beta reader just curious). I know with the book alliance we set up we are trying to get more readers as we have a different perspective.

Jenny Blake said...

Ps in Victoria Canada for 24 hours. Its pretty here.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Connie that's the kind of group I was in for years. Different folks. Reading out loud is sooo helpful. And the accountability too.

I was in a face to face group with wonderful authors like Love Inspired's Deb Kastner, Harlequin Super Romance author Rogenna Brewer, and Harlequin American's Marin Thomas.

I learned a lot from these talented writers.

I imagine Lena was a hoot!!

Tina Radcliffe said...

A Beta Reader is a fresh eye. A reader usually but not always. VERY HELPFUL. They catch things from a reader perspective.

My friend Sharon does that for me and my sister Anne.

Tina Radcliffe said...

OOPS and my husband Tom. Big Beta Reader for me.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Oh, Jenny, I envy you. Victoria, Canada. Gorgeous.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

I am in total agreement which means you've totally sapped the FUN OUT OF MY DAY, TINA!!!!

I can't even begin to argue.

And I always wonder why published authors continue to critique because once you have an editor, no one's opinion matters but hers. Why waste time?

Wait, there's that NEW YORK time is money thing again, VINCE!!! :)

But that's true across the globe, so is using a critique group an excuse to go slow? Slow isn't bad if that's your "M-O", but if you want to gain speed and productivity, critique yourself and hustle your turn-around time for your editors.

For aspiring authors, this is also true. If you're waiting for someone to critique a project/chapter/opening/synopsis/whatever, WORK ON SOMETHING ELSE while you wait. It's a total mind-cleanser.

If you are simply a social writer (not hysterically driven by small rodent-like creatures dashing around in circles to energize the wheels of your brain) then none of this applies.

Vegging is good for vegetables, not people. And not for writing production. If production isn't big on your list, then you should follow someone else's advice because this New Yorker Martha-type firmly embraces the "get-'er-done" philosophy.

Which makes me a pain in the tush although Sandra and I worked very well together back in the day! And she DIDN'T KILL ME.

Bridgett Henson said...

I must add that I learned the rules from cps. No head hopping, passive verbs, dialogue tags vs action beats etc.

Critique groups are valuable tools for writers when used wisely.

Mary Connealy said...

I was in a critique group for years and it helped me so so much.

I still have Christy Barritt in my head sometimes when I write.

She used to say, "You just stopped the action dead with this sentence."

And I can still FEEL that. I can tell (well, most of the time) when I lard in too many sassy asides (oh, my wit!) and dump backstory or scene or even a characters inner reactions in the midst of the action and just grind things to a halt.

I learned so much for all three of the ladies in that critique group.
Christy Barritt
Suzanne Smykla Osborne
Nicole Young

Tina Pinson said...

I found a good critique group a few moons ago and it sirt of faded into the mist. I tried getting in other groups or getting one person and that too fell aside. Started one in ACFW and I was it. I figure I will just be a lone wolf. I do have a couple of people who read my books, but I can't really claim them as beta readers.

I think sometimes I'dlike to critique with someone, the food group sounds awesome... but for now I don't look too hard. Kissed yoo many frogs and got warts i guess.I just keep writing. I suppose if the right frog swims past my lilypad I might try again.

Jeanne T said...

Tina, I loved this. I've been part of a critique group for about nine months. There are three of us, and we all write in different genres. This has been good, because my crit partners pick up things that I miss. We meet face-to-face every couple weeks.

I've also recently been asked to crit with someone who writes in the same genre. I'm really excited to work with her. We'll connect online.

I'm also blessed to have a friend/mentor who helps me with points in my story where I'm stuck and to brainstorm slow areas in my story. We only talk story on an as-needed basis.

I'd love to be in for the critique. :)

JENNY—I loved Victoria, Canada when I was there.

Tina Pinson said...

Btw Miss T just had to agree there is a lot to absorb in your post. Well done.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Ruthy, tell us how YOU REALLY FEEL HONEY!!!

Glynna Kaye said...

Great post, Tina! I've never had a critique "group" besides the Seekers with whom we sometimes band together to toss around ideas and to read each other's stuff. Less and less often, unfortunately, due to the time constraints of when you finish a book and have to send it off to your editor or agent. I like to have a Seeker read my opening chapters to see if it works or not as those are critical for getting a proposal okayed.

I do have a couple of eagle-eyed beta readers who read from beginning to The End to help me spot everything from typos, to tangled-up sentences, to story gaps to discrepancies in what I've written. Even though an editor is going to have the final "say," I want the manuscript to go to her in the best shape it possibly can.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Yeah, those warts are killers. I often tell the story about meeting with one face to face group. I was reading my pages aloud and suddenly stopped with the realization that my voice on the pages was no longer my voice. It was the voice of the strongest willed person in our group.

That was actually when I stopped regular group critiquing.

Missy Tippens said...

What a great post, Tina!!

I do still have two critique partners. I send them my stuff before sending to my editor. I also have another friend or two who will do quick, fresh reads of proposals or synopses before I send them. It's a HUGE help for me. I feel much more confident sending my work if it's been checked over by these people.

Y'all know who you are. THANK YOU!

Missy Tippens said...

Tina, I'm glad you mentioned the sandwich method. I think it's so important, especially for new writers.

I also think critiquing just a chapter at a time (or whatever small chunk) can be harmful for some people. I always found I would get stalled if I had each chapter shredded. I work better in larger chunks (like half the book).

That said, I think having someone help you brainstorm is a great idea.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Time really is a big, big issue once you sell. There is a lot of sit around and wait time and then a lot of get it done yesterday needs.

Tina Radcliffe said...

You are right, Missy.

What I have found is helpful for folks who write and submit to their group chapter by chapter, is to not rework the chapters until they finish the book. Just set them aside.

Otherwise you find yourself stalled in rewrites and confused-thus the urge to resubmit the same pages.

Just keep writing forward.

Cindy Regnier said...

I am a terrible critiquer and that is probably why I can't find a critique partner, or at least one that wants to stay with me very long. I've been told I'm too nice. What a stinkin' character trait! But it's true. And, to make things worse, I always have to wait a few days before I can take a critique done for me and really use it. I have to get over the "pain" first. But then I am SO glad I did. My prince (princess) is out there somewhere. Anybody in need of a "nice" crit partner? I'll try to practice my mean look and grumpy attitude. Deep breath - yes throw my name in for a critique - promise I'll be oh so grateful.

Jan Drexler said...

I tried an online crit group, but it didn't work out. I wasn't ready for it, I think.

But I've JUST started (two weeks ago) critting with another published author. We write in different genres, and we decided early on to ask our partner to look for specific things in the passage - like how the characters come across, or if the conflict is strong enough.

We also set up rules about when to submit, when to return the critique, etc.

So far, so good!

Yes, I'd like to be in for the 10 page critique!

Tina Radcliffe said...

LOL, Cindy. No need to get cranky to be a good partner. Maybe just focus on what pulls you out of a story and start with that. And just tell your partner that.

"I'm enjoying the story, but this pulled me out and I'm not sure why. Maybe we can talk about it and figure out why."

Tina Radcliffe said...

Missy is a good brain stormer. She did it for me like in two seconds.

I on the other hand do not brainstorm.

Not my forte. At all.

kaybee said...

Cara, many good points! I think I've been in every kind of critique group and faced every kind of critiquer, from loving everything to vicious. My crit partner and reader came out of my last critique group, and we've been working together on and off for 15 years. We know each other's strengths and weaknesses and how much the other person can "take"; we also know where we're coming from. Would love to be in a group again, but it would have to be the right one. I'm in a monthly craft group, but we don't really critique, we learn the skills and then take them home and try to apply them. Cara, love the monkeys! We really do need to have rhino hides, not only in this but in contests, proposals and "revise and resubmit."
Thanks.
Kathy Bailey

kaybee said...

Oops, thought you were Cara. Got my Seekers mixed up.
Plz. enter me into the drawing for the critique. I already have the books!
Kathy bailey

Tina Radcliffe said...

I can think of a lot worse thing than being mistaken for the lovely Cara Lynn James!! hehehe

Susan Anne Mason said...

Hi Tina,

Great advice, as usual. I'm blessed with two great critique partners right now. Been through a couple of different critiquing scenarios over the years (interesting and learned a lot) but this works great for me. And them too, I hope! :)

Cheers,
Sue

Sherida Stewart said...

Thank you, Tina! I was reluctant to seek a critique partner because I wasn't sure how to be a GOOD critiquer. (Or is that critter?) Your advice gives me confidence to try.

Love the "Sandwich Technique" and hope I used that in the contest entries I judged!

I'll email! THANK YOU!

Edwina said...

Hmmm...I think if I'm going to kiss a lot of frogs, one of them better turn into my knight in shining armor! Or the next best thing - a great critique partner!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Thank you, Sherida. Sherida is the person who asked for a post on this topic!!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Amen, Edwina!!

Pepper said...

Great post, Tina!
I think I lean toward that Fearful Writer part :-) but I'm not sure.

I'm blessed to have the gals at The Writers Alley as both Crit partners and Beta readers!

Carol Moncado has also been a QUEEN at doing some Beta reading too.

Right now, AlleyCat Amy Leigh Simpson is my crit partner and it's a really nice match. We don't write the exact same genre, but we write with similiar styles - so it's fun to read her work while I crit it. I think that's a nice point too.

It's more difficult to crit in a genre or style that you don't really like.

travelingstacey said...

I don't have a critique partner, but a published writer friend has done a critique for me before and it was VERY helpful!! I know I have a lot to learn, so I'm really open to constructive criticism. It does help, though, when you know the person critiquing you has your best interest at heart. I'm not very consistent right now with the writing, but I have finished 10+ pages lately and would LOVE to be in the critique drawing. Enjoyed reading the post!
~Stacey
travelingstacey(at)bellsouth(dot)net

Tina Radcliffe said...

Good for you, Stacey! Just keep pushing through. It's hard when you have little ones.

CatMom said...

Excellent post, Tina, and I must add that the recent critique I won from YOU is helping me soooo much. Especially since I work completely alone (okay--except for all my cats--but they're fine with anything I write as long as they get fed, LOL).

The suggestions you made are helping me as I work through the rewriting and editing process, so I'm very grateful.

I'm seriously thinking (and praying) about being a crit partner with someone who's approached me. Might help!
Hugs, Patti Jo :)

Playground Monitor said...

I don't have a critique group or partner. I had a CP many years ago, but she wrote much faster than I write and she also had no concept of spelling or grammar. It was just too unbalanced, so I gracefully extricated myself from the relationship.

I'd love to find a good CP. I figure if it's meant to be, that person will land in my path. Meanwhile a friend who is a voracious reader will sometimes look over things just to check for continuity, plot holes, stuff that just seems wrong and of course, grammar and spelling.

You're right about that thick hide part. I entered my first contest in 9 years earlier this year and got the results about a week or so ago. Most was spot on but one judge called me on the opening line and said she wasn't going to mark me down for accuracy but she didn't think it was done that way. Well... I'm the queen of research. Probably spend too much time researching and not enough time writing. That opening line was spot on. I sent all the judges a thank you note and thanked that judge for keeping accuracy in mind because I've read books where inaccuracies pulled me out of the story. And I diplomatically (I hope) let her know it was correct and gave a website link as an example. Then I also thanked her for the comments about my characterization. How's that for sandwiching. I'm just glad she didn't knock off points for accuracy cause then I woulda been pretty angry. A news article about the subject is what gave me the idea for the story.

Anyhoo, great post, Tina!

Marilyn

Piper Huguley said...

Hello Seekerville,

With the exception and blessing of Elaine as a cp and Debra Marvin as a critique mentor, I've
had a hard time finding a critique group. I'm sort of like Bridgett in that and I've kind of resigned myself to not finding one. I was doing the "Tina" method by doing contests for a while, but I don't know if I will continue that.

I may find the kind of support I've been seeking at RWA. Nothings really happened at my chapter, although I was intrigued to see that FHL has a critique group process. I don't know, I will have to pray about it. What I have may be enough. It's hard to know. Thanks for the great post, Tina!

Piper

Pam Hillman said...

Yay, I'm all for the FOOD critique group! Tina P, let's form one of those... :)

I've kissed a lot of frogs too, and I suspect some of those frogs were looking back at me, saying, "What a toad!!!"

Once years and years ago, I critiqued with someone who sent back my pages with the comment that they couldn't find anything at all to change, not even a tweak of a sentence, or a misspelled word. Zilch! Nada!

I had spent a good deal of time (that I didn't have, btw) trying to be helpful, and felt like I got nothing in return. After this happened a couple of times, I slowly distanced myself from this oh-so-agreeable, but unhelpful critique partner.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

HAHAHAHAHAHA!

Sandra and I critiqued for years... until the point where we weren't pushing each other forward anymore.

Her help was invaluable, and we giggled our way through a pile of contests... and learned so much!

But I've watched local critique groups eat up people's time... words... voice...

And that's not my cup of tea.

BUT if you can find someone with a similar time-frame and work ethic, that's huge.

It is additionally helpful if they are actually good.

:)

Tina Radcliffe said...

Awe, thanks, Patti Jo and cats. It was my pleasure.

The most rewarding thing there is helping a writer who is hungry to learn.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Marilyn, I was just thinking about you. How've you been?

I think your judge response was in your words, "spot on."

Tina Radcliffe said...


So glad you are in a good place critique wise, Piper. It's working. GOLDEN HEART FINALIST!!! So why mess with perfection?

Myra Johnson said...

Excellent advice all around, Tina! I've been in both online and face-to-face critique groups, and they really did help tremendously during the early stages of learning the craft.

You're so right-on, though, about how the "voice" of the group can begin taking over your own voice. Or other members will have "better" ideas for the direction of the story than your vision. Or you encounter one of those know-it-alls who can't be argued with.

(Grammar Queen, stay out of this!!!!)

For a few years now, I've relied primarily on my own judgment and that of my personal "beta reader," my hubby. He's a little biased, I admit, but he does help me catch inconsistencies in plot and character (and the occasional typo). Then I let my agent and editor take it from there.

Kav said...

This is fascinating stuff. I've never been in a critique group, but I've benefited tremendously from critiques I've had here and from my contest results.

I think what worries me, is the time commitment involved. I can barely find time to write, let alone critique for someone else. Also, I think I'd feel pretty deer-in-the-headlights about critquing which is kind of strange because I don't mind reviewing. I just feel like I don't know enough to comment with any authority.

Piper Huguley said...


*dons pink tee shirt with 'I survived a Ruthy critique' across the front*

Oh Tina, you are too kind! One of my Lucky 13 sisters is on the Ruby sisterhood blog today talking about improving craft. It's all about staying open to the learning process and growing! Critique groups can help with growth, if you are open to the process. And I am!

Piper

Tina Radcliffe said...

We're going to have to make up real t-shirts that say that eventually. I just know it.

Natalie Monk said...

Popping in for another question.

(waves at Nancy Kimball!)

Tina, just like we grow as writers, we also grow as critiquers, right? If we find ourselves partnering with someone who's critiquing style doesn't help our story, is it rude to tell them? I don't mean arguing with a critique, but maybe at least mention the areas we think we need more help with?

When I first joined Scribes, the loop manager and I exchanged critiques so she could give her opinion and let me know if I did an okay job. A critter may be an experienced reader or even writer, but won't know how to help us better if we don't tell them, right?

Melissa Jagears said...

I wouldn't want to work without a crit partner. Yeah, my editor is the final say, but my crit partner helps me avoid sending in clunker chapters etc. I want to present my best work possible...but I am running out of time now with deadlines, I wouldn't be able to keep up with a crit group like I did once upon a time though I'm so glad I had one for years.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Natalie! Of course you can ask for help in specific areas.

Often it's done this way. You send your pages with a little note. Example:

Could you really focus on the characterization in this chapter? I'd really like feedback on whether you engage with this heroine and what I can do to make her more three dimensional and sympathetic.


Tina Radcliffe said...

I wouldn't tell them that you don't like their critique or don't need what they are giving you. The options that are most diplomatic are to gently steer them to what you want to focus on or ignore their comments. Ignore can of course lead to goodbye.

Tina Radcliffe said...

I so hear you, Melissa. Did you schedule time for baby delivery in your contract?

Tina Radcliffe said...

Good writing is good writing, but I prefer certain genres myself.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Okay my response was to Pepper.
For some reason her post just showed up.

Natalie Monk said...

Ok. Thanks Tina! That helps. I'd been wondering.

Haha, Piper! I love the t-shirt idea.

I remember my first critique ever was from Ruthy. She used the sandwich technique, saying some nice things at the top (threatening me with horrible things if I told anyone she'd been nice), then essentially said to chunk what I'd written (I laugh when I think about it. It was all solid backstory.) and start where the action starts.

Best advice I ever got. I've rewritten that beginning five times over two years and don't regret a bit of it. *Thanks Ruthy!* :))

Ok, sorry for forcing everyone down memory lane. But it was a sweet one. :)

Gotta run!

Mary Connealy said...

This reminds me of a critique attitude I developed.
I would sometimes write something and a crit partner would say, "This isn't historically accurate." Or you said XX before and now you're saying YY.

Well, I'd look and I'd be right HOWEVER...... the fact that a neutral reader THOUGHT I was wrong was MY PROBLEM.

Assuming they knew as much as the average reader in a subject that I had researched extensively, I needed to figure out what I could do to make them understand I was right.

A simple example. I wrote a line in Clueless Cowboy about calves being born in the spring.
Later (in summer) I had a calf being born.
The crit asked, "Didn't you say calves were born in the spring?"

Well, I did but the calves born in the spring were beef and the calf born in the summer was a Holstein, and they give birth year round.
So technically I was right, but the fact that a reader made that mistake was still my problem.
It was so easily fixed.
My hero sees a calf being born and says, "I thought you said calves were only born in the spring."
The heroine says, "I did say that, but that's beef cows....this is..."

So even critiques that are maybe wrong can HELP YOU!!!!!!! Not always but don't dismiss them just because they made a mistake.

Does this make sense?

Janet Dean said...

A wonderful post, Tina! I hooked up with my first cp early on. We still crit upon occasion. I now have a second critique partner and we crit both our proposals and completes. Time consuming but a gift to have fresh eyes. I know my critique partners want the best for me so I love their red ink.

I don't have a Beta reader. My dh reads the book when it's in print.

I've offered critiques and judged contests. One of the benefits for me is how much I learn. Easier to see things in the writing of others than in my own stuff. LOL

Janet

Tina Radcliffe said...

Exactly, Mary. If it pulls you out of a read it pulls you out of a read. A term may be historically accurate, but if it stops the reader ..fix it.

I hope my kind editor is reading this. She suggested I change some of my medical terms in Mending the Doctor's Heart. She is of course correct. If you create too much of a huh? factor the magic of the story is gone.

Digging for Pearls said...

Great post, Tina. Any pointers/ideas on where to find good Beta readers?

I'm involved in a Scribe group through ACFW - only two other members besides me. We have clicked since we all are historical romance writers. They are great.

I also have done critiquing for/with individuals too.

My prayer is that God uses me to encourage other writers in their journey to publication.

Blessings,
Jodie Wolfe

Tina Radcliffe said...

Good Beta readers are trial and error too. You have to step out of your comfort zone to ask. I asked my old boss as she is a voracious reader but not a writer.

Do you know someone who is a reader? A really fast reader? That's who you ask. But you must give them a full msc or a partial to make it worth both your time.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Critique groups can be so tricky. I have been in several (even got rejected by one!) but I'm not currently in one, for a lot of reasons. But a good critique partner or partners is really helpful if you're pre-pubbed. I would almost say a necessity. Good post!

Tina Radcliffe said...

REJECTED??? Melly, I would never reject you.

I love your writing.

Anna R. Weaver said...

Hmm, this is the third time I've read something about critiquing/critique groups today... Strange coincidence. :)
Thanks for the insightful post, Tina. I've never had a critique partner. I've thought about it, but my biggest issue is having the time to do it. Sounds like it could be helpful if you find the right group/person.

Tina Radcliffe said...

It is a good thing, Anna. And busy people can still find time say once every two weeks to exchange pages.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Hey, we can make those shirts....

I found a website.

And people would wear them with pride, no doubt.

Right until they spilled French's mustard down the front.

:)

DebH said...

i've critiqued a couple of times. my biggest worry was the author would be unhappy with what i marked. if something doesn't flow right, i suggest alternate wording (strong on suggest), and mark typos where i see 'em. i also put exclamation marks next to sentences or paragraphs that i really, really LIKE. that sandwhich kind of thing.

i've only had a couple of short pieces i've written critiqued. mostly during Grad school when i was in a short script writing course.

i'd love a critque... if only i had something written. right now i'm in a non-productive season while i focus on my adorable 3yr old. tugs at the heartstrings when he puts hands on my cheeks, turns my face to his and says "mama, no 'puter... PLAY with me."

i do like the post. very good information to file away for when i may need to crit or be critted.

DebH said...

Ruthy
this means i should get crackin' on your caricature - if only for creating greater shirt sales...

Nancy Kimball said...

Tina, it does feel great to help someone who really wants to learn. I really try to do that from the other side now because so many people continue to help me.

I too would proudly wear a "I survived a Ruthy critique." t-shirt. =) Then was kind enough to talk it over with me over a year later (that same story) to help me decide something. And Ruthy, if you're reading this, the day after Genesis semifinalists were announced, I sent the Proposal. She requested the full two days later. =) Now we're back to the waiting room and guess what, I'm working on a new MS, just like I'm supposed to be. I hope you're so proud!

Natalie, Tina's right. You can try to steer them the way you most need help (I did that in my subs to Scribes with specific questions on G/M/C if you recall.) But you don't want to tell someone not to crit you anymore because it's not helping. That can and will become the situation, but still say thank you. This happened with me in that another critter in the loop continued to hammer on my lack of setting and description sub after sub. After about the fifth time, I wrote him privately and thanked him for taking the time to invest in my work and growth as an author but that my voice and style are characteristically lean on setting intentionally. And I only wanted to respond privately to tell him that would continue but I did not want him to think his time had been wasted or I was unable to learn, and thanked him again for his insights and invited him to continue following the story if he would like but I would understand if it did not fit his reader preference. (So that's just one way to handle that not-a-fit situation.)

But like Tina and others have mentioned, a crit is first and foremost a reader so in that sense, they are never "wrong". Even when they are actually wrong, like Mary referenced. In my first MS I finally chose to write/work in the opening chapter why my Roman hero had a Jewish name (intentionally on my part) after getting pinged for it in the THIRD contest as being historically inaccurate. Which is part of why I love contests.

Cara Lynn James said...

Great post on crit groups! I used to belong to 2 active groups, but after we all got published, we didn't have time to continue. But we still read each other's synopsis etc.

When I first started writing my crit group was invaluable!

Donna said...

I am so excited you are doing this critique partner match up! And what great guidelines you have shared! I feel much more confident after reading this!

Elaine Manders said...

This is a great post and comments just as good. It's hard to hit a good match with a critique partner, and I'm thankful Piper took me on. We've tried to increase the group a time or two but nothing worked out. Prepubs usually want a published writer and published writers don't have time. I would welcome someone who writes in the same genre(historical romance)and has written at least one complete manuscript, but will wait on God to lead in that direction. In the meantime Piper and I are doing all right.

I'd really like some beta readers who are avid readers of my genre. I've tried to find those who'd be willing to swap. There are groups out there, but they're secular, a lot of erotical for some reason, but nothing for me. If I can't find someone to swap, I'm thinking of paying readers, not professionals, but normal readers.

Please put me in the drawing for the critique.

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

This post is packed with useful guidelines, Tina. I was part of a writers' group for non-fiction a while back. I enjoyed the give and take among writers at different levels in the craft. Later, a few fiction writers in my area met to critique, but at a time I couldn't attend. I get help through feedback from contests mainly and critiques I receive at Seekerville, paying special attention to the red lines. I appreciate the time it takes to give those in depth critiques. I also rely on a beta reader.
Would love to get another one of those 10 page critiques. So please put me in the drawing. Thank you.

Vince said...

TINA:

“…it's good to develop that rhino hide early with a critique group.”

It also helps to be as big as a rhino. A rhino has no natural enemies.

Vince said...

RUTH:

“Wait, there's that NEW YORK time is money thing again, VINCE!!! :)”

Time may be money but there is a difference:
While you can spend money, time spends you.


Can you tell my childhood hero was Yogi Berra? Not for playing baseball but for all his quotable quotes.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Well there you go, DebH, that's a start. It is a growing thing, learning to critique.

Tina Radcliffe said...

NANCY!! Congratulations and good for you for being in the WAITING ROOM.

Tina Radcliffe said...

So is this Scribes group a public critique thing? You put it up and everyone reads it and responds? Not exchanging pages by email?

Tina Radcliffe said...

Thank you, Donna!!!!

Tina Radcliffe said...

I've paid readers too, Elaine. And some don't want to be paid.

Don't be afraid to approach someone you know who is a great reader and lover of historical romance. Start with a partial. That will be enough to tell you if you made a BETA MATCH.

Vince said...

Hi Tina:

My problem with critique groups is that it is often like the blind leading the blind. Even worse: you can learn things that are wrong and that’s twice as bad as learning nothing. Wrong things take longer to unlearn than right things take to learn.

BTW: in my many years in Toastmasters, I’ve met all your critique types and more. I was at a critique group seminar at a writer’s conference and it was mostly a tale of woe.

Of course, the mean problems make the best copy. Yet the number one problem with everyone in the class was ‘how do you get rid of the really poison member?' No one had a way to do this. Sometimes the bad apple drives every good person out of the group.

One group disbanded, waited a month, and then started up again under another name and they did this all without publicity.

Does anyone out there in a group now have a way to delete bad members?

Vince

Tina Radcliffe said...

You're entered, Jeanne. And you are one of those folks who really grows from a critique. Love that.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Pat Jeanne I meant. Sorry.

Tina Radcliffe said...

A rhino has no natural enemies? Really?

As I was looking through those pictures to find the right one, I really felt bad for the rhino. He looks so sad.

Tina Radcliffe said...

"My problem with critique groups is that it is often like the blind leading the blind. Even worse: you can learn things that are wrong and that’s twice as bad as learning nothing. Wrong things take longer to unlearn than right things take to learn."

YES EXACTLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! But you know what...you have to start somewhere.

Melissa Jagears said...

yes,the scribes crit group in ACFW works kind of like the main email loop. It has one address and everyone sees it who is on that list.

http://www.acfw.com/member_connection/critique_groups

You put out a sub and everyone can look at it, some will choose to crit, others won't. It's their decision. But you are to crit 2 for every one submission. If no one is getting critted (they try to get everyone to have 3 crits per sub). The moderator makes a list and says "somebody do these please"

That's how I found all my crit partners, but we jumped off the loop.

It's not "public" in that anyone outside of the loop sees it, but you are not emailing anyone directly, you email one address, like a yahoo group.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Well that's why it helps to work under the auspices like a ACFW or FHL. They have someone step in and get rid of the poison.

But in your own group, yes, you either have to have the chutzpah to tell that person, HEY, THIS IS NOT WORKING.

Or you disband and quietly reconnect without that person.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Wow, Melissa, that's interesting.

So you can have people never produce keep critiquing others work or is there a requirement to submit and actually BE A WRITER on occasion?

Melissa Jagears said...

No, you don't have to produce, you could just crit if you wanted to.

Actually that's what I did to find Naomi. We lost someone in our group, so I went in and lurked for a few months. I watched people crit and read their stuff, occasionally I crit just for the heck of it because I liked their story and thought I could help.

Then when Naomi showed up, I pounced on her and begged her to come work with us because her work and her crits fit how our group worked.

Melissa Jagears said...

But I doubt many in ACFW (paying dues) aren't writing and only want to crit for the heck of it.

And sometimes I've used the group (since I don't have time to be involved much anymore) for that first chapter when my crit partners no longer have fresh eyes because I've rewritten it again. That first chapter is so key in getting noticed.

Nancy Kimball said...

Vince, you are SO funny. I'm a big-boned girl so I laughed extra hard at that comment. I'm going to remember that Rhinos have no natural enemies (except for people and even then, we'd need good weapons).

Tina, Scribes is available to anyone with a membership in ACFW. It is a large online critique group (about three hundred members last I heard). You can submit 5K words a week and must perform 2 crits for every sub you make. Some members do more but anyone subscribed to the loop can access your material. At any given time there are usually anywhere from twenty to thirty active members as it ebbs and flows with needs and time. Out of that natural partnerships form and usually members leave to form their own small group. I'm a rarity in that I developed close partnerships a while ago but chose to remain in the large pool. It lets me get outside fresh eyes when I need them and continue to reciprocate. Right now on this WIP I have the freedom to do so because there's no deadline. When I got the full requests this year for two different manuscripts, I "abused" my established partners (it's an inside joke) because I needed massive chunks read through very quickly. They know I will do everything I can to reciprocate when the time comes for their turn.

Like Ruthy says, I have the expectation that once I'm contracted, my editor will become my crit partner, but like Melissa said, it would make me nervous beyond belief to put something to a professional that hadn't been through at least one of my crit partners. Because I honestly believe no matter how good my craft gets I can never get out of the author role enough with my ow work to catch everything someone else can that didn't create it.

Nancy Kimball said...

Melissa, I do that too. It's part of why I stay in the big group. And you described it perfectly! =)
One of the things I love about having writers of every level is it's really like a lab kind of, where you can just observe or participate to your comfort level.
One of my fave things is to read what other critters thought of a sub I critted for someone else. To see what they picked up I didn't, etc. A great way for me to learn where I need to extend my focus in my own writing.

Melissa Jagears said...

oh, and Tina, I didn't know this baby was coming until the ink was dry....next time I'll have to plan better! :D My novella comes out, my baby comes out, my first book comes out all within 30 days. Yay me!

Melissa Jagears said...

Oh yes! That was one of the best things about being in a crit group. I would always read the crits made by others to see what they saw. I learned a lot that way.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Oh, wow, Melissa. You give birth twice this year.

Way to do it in doubles.

Tina Radcliffe said...

I dunno. I suspect there are a few who never write. It's always that way. Willing to pay money to tell people how to do what they do not do.

I am such a disgusting realist.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Interesting observation on how the ACFW Scribes works, Nancy! Thanks.

Vince said...

Critique Chic

“If you can’t say something nice, join a critique group.”

****

What Characters Say When their Author is Away

“Batten down the hatches, she’s coming back from her critique group.”

“She may be in a New York state of mind but, if you ask me, she spends too much time thinking about Jeter.”

No, she doesn’t have writer’s block. She’s on Facebook complaining about her critique group.”

Tina Radcliffe said...

OUCH!!! VINCE!!!!!!!!!

Vince said...

Hi Nancy:

I’m not trying to be funny, per se. I’m just manic today. After months of monthly tests, I just found out this morning that I don’t need an operation and I don’t have to come back to the doctor’s office for six months!

I’m just happy! ☺☻☺

But if that makes me funny, that would be great, too. In the vernacular, that would be nothing to laugh about, NOT.

Vince

Vince said...

Oh Tina:

NOT OUCH…Thanks!

You set me up like a professional straight man! My old boss used to tell a joke at sales meetings that when like this:

John went back to NYC to see a Broadway play. When he goes into the men’s room he sees someone he knew in Tulsa. The man was cleaning the toilets.

“Ted, I thought you came to New York to become an actor.”

“I did. This is my first show business job. You have to start somewhere, John.”

This story was supposed to inspire first time salesmen. Are you inspired? I had not thought of this joke since at least 1975. Thanks. You made a happy guy, happier. (I wonder if the play was “The Most Happy Fella”.)

Vince

Tina Radcliffe said...

Congratulations, Vince!!! Way to go God.

Vince said...

WOW!

Ruth has her best post ever – which did not exploit cute brats or cuddly puppies – to warm the heart.

It’s about Mother Teresa – and It’s Pure Ruthian! If you love Mother Teresa as much as I do, this is a great tribute.

This comment is totally unsolicited and would have been made even if Ruth was not a New Yorker. (Read her post only after you have read everything you want to read here on Seekers).

http://www.ruthysplace.com/

Wonderful!

Vince

Tina Radcliffe said...

Thank you for that caveat, Vince. I try not to use Mother Theresa and Ruth in the same sentence...ever.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Sorry it will always be Theresa with an h for me as that is MY MOTHER'S Name.

Great post, Ruthy.

I wonder if Mother T would have made a good critique partner????

Helen Gray said...

Great post, Tina!!!

I don't have a critique group, but I have a friend at church who reads and proofs for me.

I'm just beginning to map out a new series. Don't even have the first chapter finished yet. But if the ten pages don't have to be submitted for a week or so, I would like a critique.

Helen

Julie Lessman said...

OH. MY. GOODNESS. TINA!!! How I wish I had this blog when I was looking for a crit group way back when!! EXCELLENT information, my friend!!

LOVE the suggestion NOT to allow anyone to "send back the same pages over and over." Oh my, YES, because this will bite you in the butt in the end. I've heard editors and agents say that this generally polishes the first 30-50 pages, wowing them, then the rest falls flat because not as much time was spent on it. :)

My original ACFW crit group was great, but fell apart after about three years, so we kind of disbanded. I have to admit I'm really hesitant to get in another crit group because I am SO majorly anal that doing a crit for ANYONE takes me DAYS, seriously. I go through those babies with a fine-tooth comb, trying to impart every lesson I have ever learned. Now I just try to avoid critting because I can't be trusted to do it quickly, and I flat-out don't have the time.

My beta readers were my sister, my agent, and my prayer partner, but now it's usually only my hubby because I realllly trust his judgment on things and I hate to ask anybody else because I don't like putting them out.

GREAT BLOG, Teenster!!

Hugs,
Julie

Audra Harders said...

Ahhh, critique groups.

I remember the day when I'd come home from a monthly critique group and find my voice had splintered into 10 different voices--each with its own color ink.

Only by the grace of God did I survive. And keep writing. And get published.

Tina, you hit on so many pitfalls, it's amazing we survived the torture-chamber group and became healthy writers.

OMG. I'm going to have nightmares tonight : ) Purple ink splattered across pages of heart-wrenching work.

AAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!

There. Now I feel better. Primal screams are balm for the soul. And they're cheap therapy. Use them often : )



Tina Radcliffe said...

Keep moving forward, Helen. WAY TO GO~~

Tina Radcliffe said...

There were some bad ones, Audra. A few wonderful ones too.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Well Jules, it's working for you so you have a winning combination!!

Jenny Blake said...

what i learnt today at butchard gardens dont ride the cat on the carousel or any others with a tail.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Wow, Tina, you ha a stellar day. I love crit groups. They are essential to my writing. I get no where without one. I think the accountability plays a big factor. And the other sets of eyes to see things you don't see in your own work.

Mary Preston said...

I'm a reader, so no critique group. I can see the pros & cons though.

Leona Loller said...

Yes! I would LOVE a 10-pg critique! And thank you for the advice re: finding a reader or group. I've been looking for one in my area; but, maybe, on line would work out just as well.

Anna Labno said...

My old critique group didn't work out.

I would love to join a new group.

Thank you,

Anna Labno
annalabno2004@yahoo.com

Chill N said...

ARGH!!! Ask me if I'm sorry I couldn't get to Seekerville yesterday! Fantastic wonderful helpful waited-all-week-for-it post. Thank you!

Nancy C