We work hard at our writing. And if we keep working, there’s a good chance we will get better at it. But there’s also the chance of not being objective about something that doesn’t work – perhaps because it is great writing, technically, but maybe doesn’t contribute to the story line or doesn’t add enough page-turning suspense.
That’s where an objective perspective is useful.
Through the years, when I haven’t had time to belong to a “live” critique group, I’ve turned to the on-line options. Some time back I talked about YouWriteOn.com as an option for getting reviews from a wide range of readers, including from other countries. It’s not always easy to take, and each review is just one reader’s opinion. But reviews become more meaningful when several people comment on your submission with similar recommendations. When that kind of pattern develops, you do yourself a favor to pay attention and edit accordingly. Then put it back out there to see if you’ve responded to what they said.
Sometimes, when I want more than just peer reviews, I turn to on-line writing courses. I particularly like the Advanced Novel course at Writers Digest University. I’ve had a few instructors there, and only one not-so-great experience. An advantage to this approach is that you get the professional instructive feedback AND critiques by classmates. Part of the course expectation is that you review the submissions the others in the class post, and they will review yours. In the best of circumstances, with 6-8 classmates, you get the instructor’s professional take plus the perspectives of your reader/colleagues.
Of course, that assumes that all classmates step up to the plate and do their share.
It doesn’t always happen that way. In my current class there are 6 students, and for the first class submission I only received 3 critiques, although I critiqued every posting. That’s a little frustrating. Reading and critiquing around 40 pages for each classmate is time consuming, and sometimes particularly challenging if they write in a genre you actively dislike. But you have to step back away from your personal preferences and read for flow and characterization, and tension, and setting, and so on. You might not like the story line, but you very well may appreciate the writing style and have something to contribute.
In the case of the critiques I did receive – the instructor plus the 3 classmates – there were similarities in comments that I couldn’t ignore. They forced me to face the fact that the entire first chapter contributed nothing, at that stage of the novel. The material may be worth including later, but as the opening chapter it did little to grab the reader’s interest and commitment to reading on. Had I not been open to the pattern of their responses, I very well may have retained an opening chapter that, when submitted to an agent or publisher, would result in a form response: “sorry, not for us.”
As I continue developing The Transition, a much more challenging story than my past work, I can see the value of taking advantage of the peer and professional critique options out there. If you haven’t tried that route, I’d encourage you to consider it.
Meanwhile, consider checking out what I already have on the market. Note that although published “Indy” style, both books were professionally edited and critiqued multiple times before they manifested as print and electronic book options: