Guest Interview: Wendy Martin on Critique Groups
Wendy Martin is the author of several children’s books, An Ordinary Girl, A Magical Child (2005, 2008), Aidan’s First Full Moon Circle (2008), and Watchers (2008). She is the illustrator of those three books as well as Rabbit’s Song (2009) by S.J. Tucker and Trudy Herring, and Smoky and the Feast of Mabon (2010) by Catherynne M. Valente.
Wendy has a deep commitment to children. Walking her talk, she applied for and completed training to be a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children of the St. Louis Children’s Division Court foster care system. She was officially sworn into this volunteer position on Sept 11, 2008.
Wendy currently resides with her husband and daughter in eastern Missouri when she isn’t on the road giving workshops at festivals or visiting schools. She claims the dubious title of Perpetual Project Lady and does her best to keep the house clean and the cats fed.
Read on for an interview with Wendy, in which she discusses critiquing for writing and art.
BL: Can you give us a brief description of your critique group (online or in person, how many members, what they’re writing, how you found the group, how long you’ve been together)?
WM: I belong to two crit groups, one for writing and one for illustration. Both are on-line. The illustration group is very informal and is more of a support group than for aiming for publication, although we can ask for specific project feedback. It is a public Blogger site where members post solutions to weekly prompts. The group is morphing in terms of membership all the time since it is so informal but there are about a half dozen “regulars.” I think the goal is 25 active members. I received an invitation via email when the group was being formed about 3 years ago.
The other group is very structured. There are 5 members and we are about 6 months old. It is online and crits are submitted via email. Every sixth week we “meet” in a chat room to just talk about whatever catches our fancy and any changes we’d like to see in the crits. The group is genre specific to MG although our subject matter is all over the place. I believe I also received an email invite for this one, but I don’t remember.
BL: What do you think are the benefits of your groups?
WM: With the illustration group, the benefit is to meet a deadline on an ongoing basis and illustrating a topic or theme we hadn’t selected ourselves. All members are supposed to be working in water media, although some of the newer members are submitting computer-generated art. I’ve been meaning to question the mod about that.
In the writing group, for me, the biggest benefit is finding the flaws in my WIP and having suggestions on how to fix them to make a stronger story. The entire group is serious about finding a publisher for their manuscripts, so this is helpful since we all have a similar goal in mind.
BL: What’s the hardest part of being in a critique group, for you? What makes that part worthwhile?
WM: The hardest part for both groups is meeting the deadlines. I am better at it with the writing group since it is so structured and I know I will be getting as much feedback as I give. In the art group, it is sometimes discouraging not to receive any useful feedback because either no one comments or all the comments are along the lines of “That’s nice, I like it.”
BL: If a writer’s goal is publication, do you think participating in a critique group can help the writer toward that goal? How?
WM: To achieve publication one must perfect one’s craft. Whether that is writing or illustrating is irrelevant. There are certain things that separate the hobbyist from the professional and being in a crit group can push anyone past their comfort zones if they let it. Once a creator has left their comfort zone is when true creation comes. And that’s when publication becomes possible. The work you are submitting to publish has to be strong enough and unique enough to stand out from the crowd. Plus, the creator has to have a thick skin because rejection is a normal part of this business. There’s a lot of rejection, even for the people who achieve publication. Crit groups help to prepare people for the tougher aspects of the business by familiarizing writers and artists with criticism. Even a successful book will garner negative reviews. Everyone has an opinion and not all of them will be positive!
BL: What was the biggest surprise for you, about critique groups or the critique process, when you first started participating in a group?
WM: How often the groups didn’t work out or survive. Most groups I have joined or been invited to join petered out in less than six months. I often found that groups formed by newcomers rarely gave me any useful feedback. I have found that in order for a group to function fully, the members must be all at about the same place on their quest for publication.
Please answer the next questions quickly, without too much thinking time. 🙂
BL: Do you critique with: Red pen or NOT-red pen?
BL: Favorite critiquing drink: Tea, coffee, or diet soda?
BL: Do you prefer: Critiquing or being critiqued?
WM: Being critiqued. Love feedback.
BL: Who would you rather have run the house while you write/critique? Jeeves or Alice from The Brady Bunch?
BL: Name one book that has blown you away in the last year.
WM: Wondrous Strange by Leslie Livingston.