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.
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.
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.
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?