A Good Gritique Group Will Tell You, "You Have an Ugly Baby" by Terrell Mims
Recently I was at my regular writer’s critique group, the Thursday night bunch. We had two visitors show up. After everyone left, we stayed and talked about writing, the process and business. They asked me why should they join our Warrior Writer Boot Camp (Saturdays). I told them the wonderful benefits of camaraderie, feedback, joining OWFI and such. I then told them one big reason. “There are many good critique groups, but members in our group will tell you that you’re baby is ugly.”
We all have seen an ugly baby. Not wanting to disrespect the parents, we say, “Bless his heart,” or, “Wow! You have a . . . baby?” Never once do we say, “What the hell is that?” It’s rude and uncouth, yet we think it. Many writers’ groups are the same way. A writer brings in a work to critique and many critiquers do not have the courage to say, “Your baby is ugly.” These groups are dangerous to the writer. They coddle their feelings with, “You’re missing a comma”, “Great dialogue,” and the always beneficial, “Beautiful writing.” I have seen beautiful houses built upon horrendous foundations.
Then there are writers’ groups, like mine, which has members who will tell you, “Something is wrong with that hellspawn you produced.” (They’re not that harsh.) Thanks, to our wonderful past president and her insight into building the foundation before building the house, we are acknowledging, “I did not give birth to a stripling cherub.” A good writers’ group is one that pushes you to become a better writer, a lover of your craft. It pokes, prods, pushes, and prunes you. These things hurt, but the road to success is not easy. This type of group does not just hunt for every was and comma splice, but examines conflict, character, and crossing arcs and then provides solutions.
The writer who attends this type of group must be willing to admit he is not presently the greatest author (but may be one day), that his craft needs work, and that he desires to grow. This benefits the writer who gets 40,000 words in and finds out the characters have no goals, chapters have no conflict, and the inciting incident should have happened on page 3 instead of page 33.
The writer who believes in her heart of hearts that her baby belongs in the Gerber pageant need not attend. This writer can’t stand the heat of true critique. The thought of her work not being the next big thing is unfathomable. God forbid, she be forced to scrap 100,000 words and rewrite or ditch the entire project because there is no conflict between a Green Beret who’s antagonist is a pimply faced band geek who believes he can stop the Green Beret in hand to hand combat.
Most babies are not ugly. However, there are some you want to feed with a slingshot. Many people write beautifully. Others need help whether they know it or not. Writers who join critique groups should not go to be coddled. They have friends and family for that. They should go to be challenged and pushed. The good critique group is like a refiner’s fire. They challenge without condemning. They burn out the dross to help produce a work that is publishable and something the reader wants to say, “You have got to read this!” If you’re interested in more, check out Kristen Lamb’s (my wonderful Warrior Writer Boot Camp D.I./ President), blog “Critique- If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen” at http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2009/08/12/critique-if-you-cant-stand-the-heat-then-get-out-of-the-kitchen/
This guest blog brought to you by aspiring YA author, Terrell Mims, a teacher and talented writer who devotes every Saturday to his craft by attending Warrior Writer Boot Camp. You can also follow his blog at http://terrellmims.wordpress.com/
For more information on a Warrior Writer Workshop, go to www.bobmayer.org for a workshop near you.