Friday, August 26, 2011

The "Eyes" Have It

It's Friday and a hurricane is headed our way even as we are ducking very minor aftershocks that everyone is either freaking out over or angry that they didn't feel. I have a feeling the hurricane will be harder to miss.

It's the mark of a writer, I suppose, that I am less worried about making sure the fridge is stocked and the batteries in the flashlight are fresh and that we have a portable radio than that my laptop is fully charged so that I can write if the power goes off.

Writing is going pretty well.

Which is not to say the writing itself is good. I have no idea about that anymore.

It's great having a writing group that has been together for years. I love them. I know I can depend on them. I know they love me, but that they will also be totally and brutally honest if I write crap.  Over the years, I've learned so much from them that I can now see, while writing, what they would say needs changing. Sometimes I leave it in to see if I'm right. I almost always am. I smile when I see "You need to cut this line" right next to the line I knew they'd hate.

The problem with having a writing group that's been together for years is that we have settled into a comfortable way of critiquing. We all tend to focus on the same things we've always focused on, the things we are acutely aware of.

This past week I sent a few pages to a fellow MFA student. I don't usually do that, even though they offer all the time, because I know how overloaded they all are themselves. But I needed fresh eyes. Someone who had never read any of my new book, who didn't come to the pages with any kind of preconceived notion of what the book was about. I thought I knew the kind of response I'd get. I was wrong.

I was stunned to see the critique come back with completely different types of critiques than I was used to. He pointed things out to me I would never have thought of, something that I don't think any of my fellow writing group members would ever think to point out. It was a bit mind-blowing, in the best kind of way.

Let me be clear that it wasn't necessarily better, it was just different. And different was exactly what I needed in these pages.

And some of his comments had broader application, things I will think of and apply not just in these pages but in the entire book, and in all of my writing going forward.

We writers tend to be solitary people, but writing should not be a solitary act, even though it feels that way when we sit with just the computer or pen to keep us company. The best of work needs fresh eyes. Only others can see the weaknesses we can't. Others can teach us things we don't know that they've learned.

And in the best of circumstances, as with my long-held critique group as well as with my fellow MFAers, we learn from those critiques, and they make us better writers in the long haul.

Do you have a critique group or a special beta reader? What is the best thing about having them for you?


  1. There's something to be said for having a group of people you trust, but once in a while I send a few pages, or a chapter, tp someone that I've never sent pages to before, and I'm ALWAYS surprised at the things they catch.

  2. First off good luck with the hurricane. YIKES! I think it's always great to get a fresh look of on things. I love my crit groups, but sometimes it's nice to get an outsiders perspective of things, for exactly the reasons you mentioned. :)

  3. Abby - I love my crit groups too. They are amazing. :)

  4. I'd be worried about my laptop battery, too. ;-) Hope the hurricane isn't as bad as they predicted...

    I have two gals that I critique with. They are also my friends - but that doesn't stop them from pointing out what needs to be fixed.

  5. Well being as insecure as I am, I'm always worried that my writing group partners are being too nice on order to save me from emotional meltdown. But I have to shake it off cuz (you) really don't let me get away with lazy poor writing. My insecurities are my own to deal with.

    I love those critiques. Even if it's not quite what I want to hear.

    On the other hand I've learned that some people just aren't the right critique partner for me. One guy, whose own writing is quite precise and correct, and good in that way, went through my manuscript and corrected the grammar in all the dialogue. The characters suddenly were lifeless silhouettes. Didn't care for many of the metaphors either. I should have known. He doesn't write fiction. We weren't on the same page.

    So what I'm saying is, yes, it's good to have a range of beta readers/ critique readers. Just pick ones who will challenge but still get it.

    (and I feel soooo blessed to have them!!!)

  6. A fresh perspective is important for all that we do! It's easy to get locked into our room, I find. I have recently joined a new writing group with the hope I'll gain a few new critique partners (who will also hold me accountable to getting chapters completed)!

  7. *Sigh* No, I don't have a critique group, nor beta readers.

    From visiting blogs like yours, Heidi, I see how valuable they are, though. And perhaps it's my own insecurity, but I plan to join/organize/find one once I feel like my WIP is closer to being done to the best of my ability.

    You've made a great point about getting too comfortable, and the importance of mixing it up on occasion.