Monday, November 30, 2015

The Value of Critique Groups

Today is November 30. The last day of #NaNoWriMo. My post today is going to be a little different as I’m close to winning. I know they say close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. But what the hell do "they" know anyway? Let see *them* write forty-eight thousand words in a month!

Slapping 50K words in thirty days means all words will NEED to be revised. Revision is key. If I tried to fire off my NaNo Draft (which is probably even lower caliber than a First Draft) to agents or editors I could expect silence. If I sent it to my Critique Partner, I might expect a scathing reply along the lines of; “Did you send me a First Draft?!”

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at

In my opinion, a first draft should be read by no one besides the author. Once revised (more than once) the manuscript must be vetted by a Critique Partner. I interviewed Lane Buckman, the Lane of Robyn Lane Books, to discuss the value of CPs.  

1. How long have you been writing with a purpose?

I have been writing with a purpose since elementary school.  I got an early start with a specialized program to develop young writers through Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, Virginia.  I took my first write-for-pay job doing campaign scripting when I was fourteen, and have been working freelance since then.  I do a lot of technical writing for hire, a lot of op-ed, and dabble in marketing materials.  Now, as far as writing novels goes, I got serious about that in the early 2000s.  I sold my first novel in 2010, then followed up in different genres in 2013, 2014, and 2015.  Now, I focus on my work as a publisher, so I spend most of my time offering editorial notes to the fantastic writers we have found.

2. What’s the best thing a critique partner can tell you?

The best thing a critique partner can tell me is, "This doesn't work."  If they can back that up with why it doesn't work, that's a lot more helpful, but if something isn't reading well, I need to know--no matter how painful.  The most painful feedback I've ever gotten was, "Oh, Lane.  No."

3. What’s the worst thing a critique partner can tell you?

The worst thing a critique partner can tell me is, "This is perfect!"  Because it never is. 

4. What’s one piece of advice you’d like to offer new writers/new critiquers?

 Don't ask your friends to read you to critique is my advice to new writers.  Your friends love you, and they won't tell you the problems with your work.  Find a reader you respect, and ask them to read as though they were going to review it to recommend to their most esteemed colleague.

My advice to those new to critique is pretty simple.   My critique motto is:  Imagine it's your work.  I offer the feedback in a way I would want to receive it.  That is, honestly and respectfully.  I don't pull punches, but I am kind.  Writing is hard work, and whether I'm reading James Joyce, or E.L. James, I keep that in mind, and I offer my feedback with respect to the effort, and the human being who did the writing.  We're all in the same boat, hoping for the same success, and we can all afford to be kind in how we deliver our messages.

5.  How many critique groups have you been in? What will keep you engaged? And what will have you running for the door?

I am active in three groups.  Each group was carefully cultivated (either by me, or another group member) to include published authors, copy editors, and people who love to read within the particular genre.  My favorites are the people who love the genre because they will tell you right off the bat if you are missing the mark.  Feedback keeps me engaged.  I run for the door when someone asks me to add in some erotica because I can't write that without laughing.

6. What can a critique group/partner offer that a writer can’t accomplish on her/his own?
Critique groups and partners offer honest, objective opinions in a safe environment.  I can't speak for anyone else, but my greatest fear in publishing is that my manuscript is the one the editorial team cracks up over because it is so bad.  I would rather run my work through thirty flesh-stripping critiques, than have one publisher laugh at me.  A friend recently posted that she'd just joined a critique group, and was thoroughly embarrassed by the feedback she'd received, but she was so glad she hadn't sent the book out to a publisher, or agent that way.  Critique groups help you hone your work, and help make you better.  I really can't say enough about how important it is to have someone else read your work.

KM Weiland has a great list of questions for Critique Partners.

What do you like to ask for in CPs?


  1. So much good information here. I have one critique partner who can absolutely slice and dice my work, but the whole way she's telling me how fabulous I am, and I love it. I don't balk at considering her changes, because she's so upbeat in the way she suggests them. I also think it helps to have a consistent group of CPs, so you get to know each other's style. Sometimes I worry that developing friendships inhibit honestly, but I think the benefit of familiarity outweighs that. Great post!

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