A beloved early mentor of mine, the late Dona Vaughn, told me that her first critique group was brutal. How brutal? Well, let’s just say the first part of their critiquing handbook was called “How to Be Burned at the Stake.” The second, “How to Light the Match.” *
I’ve never been in a group as ferocious as that. But even so, my heart pounds with anxiety every time I submit a piece for critique, especially if it’s going out to someone new. It’s a tricky thing, this sharing of early work, and I find it hard to do even with people I trust.
I’ve come to see it’s worth doing, though, because that’s how you connect with good critiquers — and good critiquers are one of life’s great blessings. They ask the right questions; they point out the bits that don’t connect; they help you dream and plot and plan. I’m grateful for every one I’ve ever had, Dona included.
This month I’m feeling especially thankful for the critiquers of my current novel-in-progress — starting with some amazing writers from home who read the whole book, and continuing on to the great critique groups I’ve found here in England.
In truth, I may have had almost too many critiquers this time around. The early chapters have had more than fifteen readers, way more than I’ve had on previous manuscripts. So I’m pulling back now, mulling over what everyone’s said and listening for what chimes and echoes inside me.
Still, there’s nothing like a bunch of thoughtful and enthusiastic readers to make you want to get working again. It’s even better when your readers think you’re almost there. I’m digging into my manuscript with new heart and fresh insights, and I’m excited about where this story is going to go next.
* (If you’re looking for a kinder orientation to the gentle art of critiquing, I recommend Becky Levine’s The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide. And Cheryl Klein’s lectures, now available in her book Second Sight, are a fabulous guide to editing a whole manuscript.)