Writing without a Critique Group: Looking Back
When I published The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide in 2010, I wrote a lot about the process of finding a critique group and a little bit about waiting until you found the right one.
Maybe I should have written more about the waiting.
For various reasons, I was recently without my own critique group for a couple of years. One of those reasons was that I was making the shift to writing picture books, and I was looking for a group focused on that–one that had serious professional goals about finding an agent and getting their books published. One that was committed to digging deep into each other’s work and then digging even deeper into revising our own. I was lucky enough to find that this year, and I can’t even begin to describe how my work has grown in the past six months.
I wrote a book about critique groups–I know the power they have to help you transform your writing. And yet, somewhere between writing that book and starting to look for a new group, I apparently forgot it. I didn’t stop writing, and I didn’t stop revising. I worked closely with a freelance editor who had previously worked in children’s book publishing. I received wonderful comments and suggestions from her, and my stories got better. I got serious about reading picture books–frequently browsing through the new sections at bookstores and making regular stops at the library to pick up a pile. I did Tara Lazar’s Storystorm (and will do it again this coming January). And it all helped.
Then last year, I went to the Big Sur Children’s Writing Workshop and sat in critique sessions with two groups of picture book writers. And I got a gut-slam reminder of what I had been missing. There is nothing like hearing five other writers read something you’ve written, tell you what they like, and then–of course–tell you what they don’t like (yet). Nothing like scribbling furiously into your notebook and their critiques turn into conversation–a back and forth brainstorming about each other’s suggestions for improving your story. Realizing that you’ve been hiding from some big truths about your manuscripts, facing those truths, and having immediate flashes of ideas for revision.
When I got back from the workshop, I started revising, but I also got serious about looking for a new group. It wasn’t easy. Okay, it was hard. It meant putting myself out there again–physically and emotionally. It meant facing rejection, and it meant restarting my search. Where I had felt cozy and comfortable in my revision space before, now I felt lonely. I had re-woken up to knowing that the revising I was doing on my own wasn’t going to be good enough, and I had to push myself away from the feeling that I was wasting my time to even try. And I had really big goals/high standards for critique partners; while that was right and important for me, it didn’t make it any easier to find a group I wanted to join.
As I said, I was lucky that I found a group. I also, though, worked at it. And kept working at it. And, I think, if I had a key to the Tardis, I’d probably go back to writing the critique group book and talk a little more about that. About the time it may take you to find a group, about the awkwardness and fear you’re going to experience, about how you have to juggle the search with continuing to write. And, most important: that once you find the right group–you won’t have a single regret about taking on those challenges.