Friday, February 16, 2007


Networking. It's nothing new. You've been told: go to conferences, talk to lots of people, get on the mail loop, etc. All that is still good advice. There's nothing like meeting people face to face if you want to make an impression (hopefully a good one). A human network is vital for any profession, especially writing.

But what about the quality of your network? Occasionally, a new member of ACFW or MWA will ask how he or she should go about finding a critique group. It's easy, I say, the hard part is finding a good critique group. What do I mean by good? I don't mean their writing is on par with John Steinbeck with their first novel. I mean a group of writers who have a goal, like you, and are making daily strides toward that goal, like you. Your critique group is your innermost networking circle. If it consists of men and women who write "when they have time" or have done nothing to improve their skills in five years, guess what? You're going as far as they are.

I know this sounds harsh. But this is the reality. I've been through more critique groups than I care to admit. Know what most have in common? All the members have given up. Maybe it took them a while. I don't know. I didn't stick around long enough to find out. Because I have a goal, and am taking the steps each and every day to achieve that goal, and they weren't. I don't have time to encourage someone who isn't giving it their all. Neither do you. I've now been in my current group for two years. That's a record for me. What's different about these ladies? They're as committed to reaching their writing goal as I am. Their writing improves noticeably over time (hopefully, they say the same for me), and things are happening. Robin's first book is out in October. And four people, not one, are rejoicing.

Yes, this sounds a bit heartless. We're Christians. We're supposed to lift each other up. But if you read the New Testament, you'll find that Jesus didn't spend a whole lot of time getting His disciples out of bed in the morning. You are called. You follow. Or you don't. His time was short. Our time is a bit longer, but in high demand. Jobs, kids, church--most of us aren't blessed with eight hours of uninterrupted writing time every day. Every minute you invest in your writing is precious. If you're spending time pointing out the same mistakes your crit partners have been making for years, it's like investing in a dotcom. You're getting nothing in return.

If your inner circle isn't helping your writing career, find another circle. Make your current group your friends, by all means, but as far as your writing goes, you need to be surrounded by focused, driven, chew-your-draft-to-pieces, professionals like you.

I spent a lot of space here just talking about your inner networking circle. I'll re-visit this topic again and talk about those larger circles. Your homework this weekend: evaluate your critique group or inner circle. Are they helping you reach your goal? Are you helping them? Be honest. You may have to make some tough decisions come Monday. Come to think of it, I may just find myself voted off the island. Better get to those critiques...


Mark said...

I've never really had a critique group. I'm not sure it would work for me. I have had, however, someone who would read at least some of my work and give me an opinion.

Early on it was my brother, who though not a writer, is a composer and college professor.

Later on it was my friend Rick Weyer, who also not a writer, was very good at analysis, although he wasn't overly familiar with the genres I was writing in.

Now my critique group is basically my agent, who tends to give me more of a yes or no sort of critique, as in, "I hated it" or "I loved it" or "It didn't work for me." In the case of THE SERPENT'S KISS, my upcoming novel, she loved it, but....

Yeah, the BUT was significant. BUT, she was disappointed in the ending and wanted me to re-think the villain's motivation.

She was right and this is my favorite book to-date.

I think one of the primary issues of having a critique person is trust. Neither my brother nor Rick were ideal critiquers because they weren't writers, but they were honest and intelligent and more importantly, I trusted their opinions. I could take it or leave it, but neither of them were bringing their egos (at least not discernibly) into the mix, which is where I suspect a lot of critique groups get into trouble.

Mark Terry

Mark said...

Oh, and I wanted to add one other thing. This was from my college creative writing class.

Sometimes people with a little too much experience with literature classes don't make particularly good critiques of writing because they get hung up on themes and imagery rather than useful matters like vividness, crispness and effective writing, which are things I think the writer needs to pay more attention.

Janny said...

In the RWA chapter I come from, a standard part of our meeting was reading aloud from one's work and being critiqued, on the spot, by anywhere from 10 to 20+ people at the same time. When I mention that to lots of writers, they go pale, but it was excellent training ground in more than one way:
1) it got your work out there, out loud, which is a big step
2) it got you the benefit of people at all different levels of writing skill
3) it also enabled you to learn a lot from hearing others read, and being put in a situation of saying, "Does this work for me, or not?"

I went from not having a clue what to knowing something wasn't working, but not how to fix knowing why something wasn't working and why other things knowing how to suggest improvements and tweaks. This took time, experience, and some hard knocks along the way, but in the process of learning how to critique other people, I also spotted the same mistakes in my own work--and was able to fix a lot of them before I then subjected that work to others! :-)

Yes, we did have people who were "stuck" at one level and never went beyond it. We also had multi-pubbed RITA and other award winners whose critique skills may have been less than sterling. But what we also had were a large group of people all about at the same level, or slightly behind or ahead of each other, who were all growing together. We saw people get published in sets of twos and threes, then a lull, then a few more, as people's work grew and as the markets expanded as well. So it was a great experience on many levels, and one I still recommend despite its pitfalls.

Now? Now I have basically one crit partner. I may or may not get back into a large crit group, because at the point I am now, most critters don't give me anything near what I need. So the situation at present is what we might call "in flux."

But overall, I'd say that getting your work out there, even if the crit group is far from perfect, is excellent training for the "biz" and builds a thick skin as well. It also, incidentally, can build your own confidence, because after awhile you learn when NOT to listen to crits and just go with your gut.

So there you have it. A second pair of eyes, at least, is a great thing to have if you can swing it. Many pairs of eyes, in many instances, can be even better.


Gina said...

What? You're not writing in your sleep anymore?

This post would make a great addition to the Carnival of Christian Writers.

Just send the link and a blurb about the post if you want to be included!

Speaking of networking, Writer...Interrupted is a GREAT place to do just that!

Robin Caroll said...

I'm blessed to have such wonderful and talented cps who've grown into my dear friends. Sure, it gets hairy sometimes when we're all writing and flying through the words, or when deadlines drop in on you, but knowing these guys are rooting me on make it all worthwhile. So many thanks, Ron, D, Heather, Ronie, Camy, and Colleen......and the support of Cheryl and Pammer too!

Ron Estrada said...

Robin is a prime example of someone who's surrounded herself with people who can help with her writing career. Though most of her success is attributed to her hard work (and let's face it, stubborness), having a strong network has certainly helped pave the way.

Dineen A. Miller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dineen A. Miller said...

I'm just chiming in here to, well, chime in! LOL! Robin and Ron said it best. We're truly blessed to have the group we do. Out of 5 three of us are now agented.

Ron, you're next and I have a feeling it's going to be soon!