To crit, or not to crit

Posted: January 22, 2009 in Musings, Writing
Tags: , , , , ,

Asking people to read your work-in-progress can be a bit like asking them to look at your haemorrhoid.

First comes the shock, then the panic, and finally the hasty back-pedalling, excuses splattering in their wake.

Some assure you that they would love to – just as soon as they get that PhD on the Role of the Anus in fin de siecle Art and Literature off their plates.

Others eye you warily, suggesting it might be better if you got a professional to look at that ….

It’s enough to drive many writers onto the net. Surely, with one-and-a-half-billion internet users worldwide, there’s someone, somewhere, out there who cares what you write.

Some find a group of like-minded souls up for a bit of literary tit for tat:  I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.

A few, a lucky few, actually help each other produce better manuscripts.

When they work, the critique group can provide sustenance to writers, hungry for feedback.

And in my experience they are good at zeroing in on that gross toad-killing scene on page one that serves no narrative purpose, but seemed like a good idea at the time.

I’m quite partial to a bit of critiquing myself, preferably on a completed draft (but hey, we can’t always wait that long, can we?)

So I was fascinated by Blaize Clement’s contrarian take on it in Moments In Crime: Critique Groups, Pros and Cons (Mostly Cons)

He reminds us that the first draft is not your baby, it is your foetus and it might be better to get it out, before showing it around.

You might be transfixed by the photos in utero, but most people infinitely prefer to view the finished product. And exposing it prematurely could risk injuring or even killing it.

Read Blaize and tell me what you think.

  1. Kirsten says:

    ooh, I totally agree. I also feel better about being so cagey about sharing unfinished work. I didn’t even tell anyone I was writing a novel until I finished my first one. It meant I was able to concentrate competely and intimately on the story. Now I don’t mind sharing the general gist of what I’m working on to a select few, but still love my privacy. *introvert alert*

  2. Wow, that Clement quote says it all!
    And yes, a good critiquing and writing buddy (or two) are worth their weight in gold.

  3. chrisbongers says:

    I think it was Kate Grenville who advised people to write the first draft with the door closed, then to rewrite with the door open. Fresh eyes help best with a near-completed draft I think. 🙂

  4. randy says:

    So… my second draft is supposed to be good? Daaamn it.

  5. jnahrung says:

    Kate’s advice is very good. It’s how I work, usually, unless there’s a really annoying piece that I need oversight on. Mind you, I know people who swap chapter for chapter as a way of keeping themselves on track, and picking up character arc and storyline problems. I guess if you can keep writing is the main thing: don’t let a critique stop you from getting to the end, and don’t get caught in the never-ending editing loop. I’m fortunate to have my Edge critiquers to keep me on the straight and narrow. And in wine. Also very important part of any critique group 😉

  6. I’m a fan of a few good writing buddies that I know will hold me to higher standards than I would hold myself. My regular writing buddy knows when she needs to be gentle and knows when she needs to shake me around a bit. The golden rule is to be able to sift out the useless critique from the useful. (And I’ve had professional editors give me both.) If it leaves you feeling battered and shamed, then it’s useless. If it leaves you saying ‘ah ha! that’s it!!’ then it’s useful. (I learnt that one from “The Artist’s Way”… my writing bible!)

  7. Chris,
    It definitely depends on the Crit. Gp. Those that are run with guidelines and sensitivity are very worthwhile.

  8. belindajeffrey says:

    great blog, Chris! I’m a bit blogstipated at the moment.

  9. Aye okay. but is the whole idea here no to just write? for the sake of writing. because we like it, because its what we do, because oor days just don’t feel right if we don’t. its a liberation, an emancipation and it feels really feckin good to get it on the page looking the way ye want it tae, but who’s to say that what we’re writing isnae a loada shite!

    I agree with the idea that bad criticism can be the death of something beautiful, but good criticism can nip the rubbish in the bud and help the ‘beauty’ emerge, ye know like nurturing a lovely thing. I’m no so sure sitting at somebody’s table writing a piece from the perspective of a lizard or a fork (John Irving) is gonnae help me write what I want to write.

    I’m with you bongers n jnahrung n those who agree, good readers -people who want to see yer work improve- can really really help, but I also don’t think it matters whether the doors open or not, so long, as Blaize rightly mentions, they’re no just there to see how many pieces they can cleave your work intae before they bury it with a pair of concrete slippers.

    This whole feotus/baby living-breathing-thing stuff doesnae work for me. they’re words. we write and rewrite them so often we shouldnae feel the need to be so precious aboot them. You’re only holdin yersel back if you do. If somebody else reads it and doesnae like it, what’s it to you? you wrote it, are you happy with it?

    I’m really no sure what my point is here, but I say bollix tae punctuation n worrying about spelling things right whether its in the first draft or the last – is that no what copy editors (read shite writers groups) are for?

  10. chrisbongers says:

    I learned not to be precious about my work a long time ago – all those journalistic rewrites thrown back in my face till I learned to do them properly in the first place!

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