…And Get Some Critiquers

On of the most important features of a writing career is readers. You’ll need them once your work is published, of course, to buy your stuff. But even before it’s published, you’ll need them, and you’ll need them badly.

I hate to say it, but your parents and your friends are not enough. By all means, let them read your stuff and comment–the more the merrier. But you also really need some people who are more or less impartial, and even more important, who are skilled at critiquing. The good news is, you can teach them yourself. Tomorrow or the next day, I’ll give a mini tutorial on critiques for those who might want it. In the meantime, we’ll just talk about why you need them.

You need opinions from other people; fiction writers who produce in a vaccuum frequently end up with the strangest unmarketable results. Your work might become pretentious; unknowingly imitative; too self-referential; just plain bad. Anything could happen. Now, critiques along the way might not prevent any of this, but it will be very difficult to prevent bad fiction without critiques. In other words, they are necessary, though not sufficient, to good fiction.

More than that, you need to DO critiques. That’s at least as important. It’s not a bad idea to practice on published authors. It helps to break down the barrier that aspiring authors frequently have, the awe and deference toward a Genuine Published Author that has us acting like fans instead of writers ourselves. But that’s the least of it. Doing critiques helps you realize what’s good and bad about the fiction you read, and why the author might have done that, and why you would do it differently. This makes an enormously important part of your toolbox as a writer.

Therefore, it’s extremely useful at any stage of your career to contact and entwine in your tender tentacles a sheaf of other writers in your area and exchange critiques. You can do this in any way you like; some people read aloud and then sit under fire while comments are made, some exchange packet after stapled packet of photocopies and scribble remarks in the margins. I have always found it works best to bring copies of your work to meetings and have everybody take them home and do a written critique in semi-formal style (to be discussed more next time) plus remarks-of-the-moment in the margin. Then next meeting, everyone hands around the critiques, reads them, has a good cry in the bathroom (this becomes less necessary as your skin toughens, and it will) and then discusses.

If you can’t find anyone to do face to face critiques with, there are plenty of online groups, the best example being critters.org, for speculative fiction, especially short stories.

What do you think works best? Has anybody tried a different method? Any online critique groups that you know and love?

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