I’ve seen this question posed and discussed in various chat rooms, blogs, and sites. Given my experience with and without a critiquing group to support my efforts, I’m going to weigh in on the answer here and now.
Grab a Pepsi or a glass of wine. I’m never short-winded.
For two years I wrote and submitted my work to agents and publishers, knowing I would receive the literary brass ring in response at any moment. How could they not see I was the next King, Patterson, Bombeck, or Robbins?
After all, my family and friends loved what I wrote.
Ten novels and hundreds of rejections later, I was as devastated as I was determined to figure out what I, and I stress “I,” was doing wrong.
Could it be my own family and friends had no idea what they were talking about?
In a word… Yup.
The key here is to accept, if you’ve just started writing, you don’t know what you’re doing – – yet. But you will. You will as soon as you accept, you don’t.
Having awakened to the fact I needed the opinion of a total stranger – yes, in writing you need to talk to strangers (and the stranger the better) – I first tested the water at Absolute Write Water Cooler, a critiquing site anyone (writer or not) can join and sit in anonymous judgment. Posted a couple of sure-fire samples I knew would wow the crowd. Two days of patting the carpet later, I finally located my head they’d cut off and tossed back at me.
As author Amber Green is so fond of saying, “NEXT!”
Next was reviewfuse.com. It’s a neat little free site designed for writers. Simply post a sample to be critiqued and, once you’ve critiqued three others’ works, your private posting receives three critiques. The experience was enlightening. Not only did I obtain what I thought were fair and unbiased comments and suggestions for improvement, I learned there were writers in the same spot as me – – totally lost and confused as hell.
Armed with just enough experience to be stupid, I went back to Absolute Write. They went after my hands this time.
Next was posting want ads on Absolute Write for a crit (critiquing) buddy, someone to evaluate my work in exchange for assessing theirs. A one-on-one situation where I could ask questions and receive honest answers from someone who hadn’t kissed my boo-boos when I fell off my training bike.
My personal knight in font armor was well-respected author Barbara Sheridan. I was looking for a crit buddy. She was looking for someone with cop insight for a story she was writing. I had twenty-four years of what she needed, and she had twenty years of what I needed.
We entered into a temporary literary marriage of convenience with divorce decreed by the final keystroke.
Unlike my first wife, Barb didn’t pretend I’d disappeared on a Tibetan sponsored exploration of the Antarctic the next time we digitally bumped into each other. Instead, she referred me to a critiquing group looking for a new member. Not just any group, but ERAuthors… Erotic… Romance… Authors.
I mean, I’ve engaged in sex in places I won’t admit to, read Playboy for more than the articles, viewed confiscated porno flicks on a sheet suspended over jail cell bars (we had to affirm the quality of the evidence, don’t you know), assigned positions on my number scale to every woman in the bar and readjusted their placement with each emptied bottle of beer until all that remained were ‘tens’ (except for the guy in the corner with the cute heart and rose tattoo – he stayed an ‘I’m not that drunk yet’ eight), purchased mountain climbing equipment in case I ever met Dolly Parton, and shared every throbbing stroke of my unmarried conquests (except for one of his ex-wives) with my best friend. And contrary to popular belief, my parents did have sex at least once.
But these people have the audacity to actually write about that which I do, talk about, fantasize about, and watch. How dare they!
Yes indeed. How dare they pen expertly crafted plots, artistically cultivated characters who float across the page, and locations as exotic and real as the breath they steal from your throat.
When I read the excerpts of ERA’s members, I was absolutely intimidated. Each and every one of them is the very definition of the word ‘writer.’ Except one. Me.
They took me into their fold (apparently they like a challenge).
That was in April. In July, under the tutelage of ERA’s members, I completed a romantic comedy titled “Out of the Closet” and submitted it to four publishers.
Two of the four sent me contracts.
Two years of beating my head against the wall believing I could do this on my own, and this fantastic assemblage of writers, through patience and sheer desire to help each other, helped me learn the skills to have not one, but two publishers want to print my work in just three – count them; one, two, three – months.
This small group of gifted people celebrate their successes with each other, and lend a supportive shoulder in defeat and personal time of tribulation. ERA exists for one reason – to encourage growth in their writing skills.
At times their comments may seem harsh. But sometimes it takes a strong slap through the computer screen to get my attention.
Someone asked me the other day what the most important thing is my writing has gained from being a part of this particular group of unique individuals.
I answered immediately. Honesty.
You can read more from KevaD at his blog