Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Help! They've stolen my VOICE!

For the record, I am already in a fab critique group, and NO, they have not really stolen my voice. (waiving at Paul, Amy, Sandi, Terri, and Jeri!) I like us because we are relaxed, casual, and have loose rules because we respect each other. We all write in different genre's for the most part, so it's interesting to think outside the box. At the moment, we call ourselves the "dad gum it" group. It's an inside joke. *grin*

I think the two biggest fears I hear about critique groups are:

*What if they mess with my voice?
*INFORMATION overload! I don't know who to listen to!

Having been in my current group for about a year now, and am having a GREAT experience, I thought I'd chime in to help put those fears to rest.

VOICE:

We all hear this word thrown around willy nilly. "You have to have a distinct voice." "Don't let them mess with your voice!" Agents and editor seek a fresh one. So how do we make sure we leave our voice intact while in a critique relationship?

My advice is to know your voice BEFORE you get into one. What is unique about your writing? What separates you from others that write the same genre? It might not be something definable with words, but you should be comfortable with it.

If you receive a suggestion that you think is just messing with you voice, here are the things I'd recommend you do:

* Analyze it. If they are rewording a sentence, is it better, or just different?
* Reword it. Are they just suggesting a new wording to avoid confusion? If so, maybe reword it but in your own way. A critique partner might say, "This doesn't work because of XYZ. Try this: ABC" I can see why XYZ doesn't work, but ABC just doesn't sound like me. So I try DEF and woohoo, much better!
* Safety in numbers. Join a group first. If more than one person marks something, chances are it's a problem area, and not just your voice being messed with. Partnerships can come when your voice is established.
* Confront.If you think it's a problem that you can't live with but really like your group, e-mail the person and let them know, IN LOVE. No one will want to be in a group with someone who tries to create mini-versions of themselves. A kindly worded note might be all that is needed for this critiquer to wise up.
* Leave. Sometimes it just doesn't work out, or the group isn't meeting your needs. In that case, tell them how thankful you are for their help, but it's time to part ways. Leave on a good note though, not a mean one.

*NOTE* Voice CAN be improved, and many times needs to be! Don't use "voice" as an excuse not to grow in your writing.

INFORMATION OVERLOAD

We've all heard the complaints about contests. One judge says one thing and another says something else, and it can get down right confusing! The same can happen in a critique group.

Tips to deal with this:

* Let it sit. When you get a critique, read it immediately, then let it sit for a few days or so. When you come back to it, you'll have fresh eyes and can view it more objectively.
* Ask other's opinions. I have many writer friends who aren't necessarily my critique partners, so at times, when I'm really conflicted, I'll ask their opinion about a matter. It is an objective third party that can break a tie or diffuse a critique bomb. *grin*
* Compare.Similar to voice, if more than one person mentions an area to improve, pay attention to that.
* Don't get defensive. No one is perfect. If you think your writing is, then you've been listening to your mother's praises a little too much. Everyone can improve, so look at the critiques with an open mind.

If you are nervous and haven't tried a critique group, take heart! It isn't that bad, and is actually a lot of fun! At the least give it a shot to just see how you like it. If you don't, you can always pull back! It's like the line in one of my favorite movies, The Cutting Edge.

"Is Tryout!"

Discussion: Would love to hear your opinion on "voice" and critique groups!

Also, Opinion shopping: How important is genre to you when you are selecting/forming a crit group? And what about other things? Status in life, age, gender? Do any of these matter to you?

6 comments:

Jessica said...

Great points here Krista! I've only met one person in a really huge crit group who seemed mean on purpose. I think crit groups are great too, as long as someone considers the things you've pointed out.
I'm the same way with sentences and voice, because that is part of what makes someone's writing unique. Only if it's confusing do I suggest a reword and maybe give a reason why. I also go with the multiple opinions rule too, for the most part. Unless one person says something I completely agree with, which happens alot too. :-) LOL

Jody Hedlund said...

I'm not really sure I can pull out my voice and tell you exactly what it is or sounds like. The lady who edits my books can hear my voice. But since I'm so enmeshed with my writing, I don't know if I can hear it as clearly. Perhaps it just wells up from within me and comes out in what I write and the way I write it.

Crit groups are definitely a matter of personal preference too. I don't think I could operate in a group like yours with such a mixture. For the most efficient and helpful feedback, I think I would need someone who is familiar with my genre. But I'm sure a group like yours definitely stretches each of you!

sherrinda said...

Just getting started, I don't know that I even have a voice yet. I am sure as time goes on, maybe I will hear it. As for critique groups, I am not in one. I guess I am too scared to since I am just starting out. I have a critique partner, but we are just getting started and so she probably hasn't heard my voice yet either.

Krista Phillips said...

Jessica, I haven't met anyone in a crit group that was mean either, so I'm very thankful for that!

Jody, I think voice is hard to "define." Mine is sarcastic and humorous, but that's like describing a human voice that has an accent. Not all southern accents are the same, but it's really hard to put a description to the differences.

Also, I SO agree that crit groups are personal preference! Actually, I've heard some published authors recommend NOT having crit group/partners in your own genre, as that helps with the problem of "voice" intrusion. But... currently I think that's what I'm looking for, is a crit partner that writes in my own genre. I'll keep my group because I DO love it, though:-)

Sherrinda, you'll get there! a crit parnter is a great start! Groups are not for everyone, but my hope was to take the "fear" out of a group. They are just another tool you can use on your writing journey, and may help you find your voice too!

Marybeth Poppins said...

I think I'm mostly just afraid to hear that people don't like my novel. I've worked so hard on it, but my self doubt is building. I feel like a crit group would only pile onto that self doubt.

Needless to say I am in the process of thickening up my skin and getting ready to do what is necessary to grow my writing skills?talents?

Marybeth Poppins said...

PS...award at my place today ;)