Critters you don't exterminate by Kelly Kirch

Why have a critique group? Because they are necessary. I have a critique group. They see everything I write. In fact I’m not ready to submit it to either of my publishers until I’ve reworked the heck out of a piece and then they see it to find all the incongruities I missed. Having a critique group is invaluable to my process. Jannifer, Terri, and I fell into an acquaintance. I moved south of the twin cities and put out an all call for partners at my local chapter. Terri responded as she lived in my new neighborhood and so did Jannifer though she lives over an hour north of us. We met every other week at 4pm in the Apple Valley Panera. Sometimes we were there as longs as four or five hours. Yes, we made a point of buying something every hour or so and the establishment was wonderful to us.

However, times change. Jannifer lives half the year either in Yuma or on a cruise ship cause that’s her preferred retirement experience and somehow maintains her girlish figure. Terri works like a horse at a local insurance company and volunteers her time to her chapter, housing development board, victim groups and any number of other organizations. Me? I moved out of the state. But those two years of Panera critting brought us close and we continue to critique each other’s work over the internet. I trust them completely.

It took us about six months, I think, to get to the point where we no longer walked on eggshells to offer a harsh critique. Why? Because trust doesn’t happen overnight. After six months though, our motives were out in the open and we all realized we cared about the other’s work. We wanted their success and no matter what criticism was offered NEVER meant to offend anyone, just meant to tell it like it is. That kind of plain speaking and honest judgment of your work cannot be replaced.

It was Jannifer who read Marriage Plot (June release from Resplendence Publishing) and said Puck was too strong a secondary character. I struggled with Puck because he was the fun loving American who stole the show. Terri loved Puck and over two weeks tried to convince me he was the hero and I was focusing in on the wrong plot. I disagreed, but her insistence told me each evolution made Puck too strong… until I knocked off his luster. Too much. Cause then Jannifer said he was a nitwit, bonehead, boooooooring. It’s like working with Paula Abdul and Simon Cowel but somehow we get to the meat of the matter. I strengthened Puck, gave him his head (No AJ, not that kind of head) and took all references to his POV (point of view) out of the equation. We were all happy and Puck became the sweet, sexy, romantic, funny side-kick to the more serious primary relationship. I’m a little in love with Puck, still.

I had one more chapter in my latest work, More Than Words, when Jannifer told me my recent chapter was “the best thing you have ever written. I want more KYLIE!!!” to quote her. Seriously? I asked her if she was high and reread the chapter three times. Terri hasn’t weighed in yet. But such high praise on a rough draft is something worth keeping.

And like Anny Cook (fellow EC writer), I do spot checks with her and Amarinda Jones (another EC pal). If I can’t wrap my brain around a problem or need to test the waters to see if I’m on the right track (especially if it is publisher related guideline stuff) I send something off to them for a read. And I know I will get the same honest evaluation I would from Terri and Jannifer.

Anny, Amarinda and I carry on three-way emails daily since August (wow, really?) We chat like this all day long enjoying each other’s company, sometimes ticking each other off, but mostly chatting. They won’t color the truth. Trust. It’s what it all boils down to isn’t it?

20 Responses to Critters you don't exterminate by Kelly Kirch

  1. Chris Power

    You are absolutely right, Kelly! A trusty critique partner is worth her [or his] weight in rubies! I have several friends who fulfill this role for me, and they are brilliant at keeping me on track, making me think something through and sometimes helping me get out of the plot-corner I’ve written my people into.

    They are also the ones who have helped me hone my writing ability.

    Don’t know about you, but when I’m deep in a scene I have trouble seeing the overall wood for the individual trees, and they are *very* good at kicking my arse back on course.

  2. James Goodman

    A fascinating post, Kelly. It sounds like you have great critique group and the fact that it has withstood non-sugar coated truths about each other’s works, speaks volumes to the level of trust you have developed. And yes, trust is the key component to any long term endeavor

  3. Destiny

    Hi Kelly,

    Great topic! You have a point. It does boil down to trust. I’ve only had one experience with a critique group and it wasn’t positive. However, there were unusual underlying circumstances and I understand those now–but I wouldn’t go back to the same group for love or money.

    Trust is crucial. I think it is also important to find those partners who generally have the same optimistic outlook on life, writing, and the group’s goals. That’s just my two-cents.

    You’re a talented author and fabulous weaver of words so your group is lucky to have you!

    Destiny :))

  4. Kelly Kirch

    Hey Chris, James, Destiny. Thanks for posting!

    Our little critique group had its growing pains at first. It’s HARD to take criticism if you don’t know each other well. I know I stuck my foot in it at times and swallowed tears at others. Once we spent so much time together though, trust naturally developed. Now they can tell me something sucks outright and I’ll ask for more details. They feel the same way. It’s a relationship I expect to last many many moons. 😉

    Kelly

  5. Sandy

    Kelly,
    You’re so right about having a critique group. My writing would just be terrible without my group.

    Sandy

  6. J L Wilson

    I used to have a regular critique group online, but so many of us have gotten busy with publishing and deadlines and family and … we seldom critique each other any more. I still have a First Reader, though, whom I trust completely. She reads everything I write and gives me a blunt appraisal. We meet once a week and she either reads my WIP or we talk about promo, her WIP and anything else necessary.

    I also have a brainstorm group that I bounce ideas off of. We get together twice a year ‘in the flesh’ and are always there for each other online. They’re the one who help me decide if a plot is viable or not.

    I never have anyone read anything while it’s in progress. I always wait until I’m done then give it out for review. And my editor(s) are all blunt in their assessments, too. So I count them as critique partners, in a sense.

    I think it all boils down to what you need to keep your writing on track. I’ve found ‘after it’s done’ reviews are really best for me. And those brainstorm sessions are invaluable (not to mention the drinking and the gambling and the laughing that goes on at the same time!)

  7. Lyn Armstrong

    Hi Kelly,

    Your CPs sound great. Trust is really important if you want to get the best out of your manuscript.

    Love your work!
    Lyn
    xoxo

  8. Meagan Hatfield

    Hi Kelly!

    Great post! And I highly agree. While I don’t have a group, I have an invaluable and talented crit partner and I would never consider sending a story out to publishers without her reading it first.

    The road to finding that perfect match can be long and hard, but SO worth it. 🙂

    Best of luck on your releases and many sales to you!!

    Hugs,
    Meagan

  9. Cindy Spencer Pape

    Great blog, Kelly. Critique partners are vital, and writing friends are the best.

  10. Katherine Ivy

    Great post, Kelly!

    I agree JL about not liking to send out rough stuff, but then again, it may just be my experience with crit partners. I had one crit partner a while back who always wanted to my story her way. She always suggested things as how she would do it if she was writing the book. It honestly wasn’t helpful. I’m all for suggestions for major or minor plot changes, character tweaks (or deletions if necessary!) and all that stuff, but I want it to be in line with the story I’m trying to tell, not someone else’s vision of my work.

    I think a good critique partner can be very hard to find. I’m glad to hear you’ve found several! hang on to them 🙂

    -Kat

  11. Donna Kowalczyk

    Excellent post, Kelly!

    I love my crit partner, we’ve become great friends over the years. And lately I’ve been lucky enough to have another great friend critiquing for me, mainly my Liza James titles. My CP doesn’t read erotic romance, and that’s where my heart is these days…LOL

    Congrats on all your accomplishments, Kelly!

    ~Donna

  12. Desiree Holt

    I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again. A good critique partner is more valuable than gold or diamnds. someone youj trust who can crit honestly without peeling off your hide, and whose comments you are willing to absorb like a sponge. When I first joined my RWA chapter 5 years ago I joined the critique group and it saved me more times than I can count. Now we’re too many and too crowded,. and I’d love to find someone I can be on the same wavelength with.

  13. Kelly Kirch

    It becomes a shared success when a book gets published, doesn’t it??

    I heart you all for stopping in!! Thank you. Hey! Impromptu contest!!! I will draw the names out of a hat from these posts to win a copy of Marriage Mart. Names will be drawn after midnight tonight and delivery of the eBook tomorrow!!

    Thanks again, everyone.
    Kel

  14. Laramie Sasseville

    Hi! It sounds like your critique group has really worked for you.

    I’ve belonged to several critique groups in my time, and had a mixed reaction. It was certainly good to have the moral support of fellow writers – but I found myself daunted by getting feedback (even positive feedback) in the middle of my creative process. I didn’t want to work on stories any more after I’d shown them to others. At this point I wait until I have a complete draft of something before I solicit any feedback.

  15. Molly Daniels

    Hi Kelly:) I’m just getting started with a critique partner, and I hope everything goes well. I’m learning to take criticism and hopefully my more ‘adult’ work will soon be published.

    Glad you found a great group to work with and best wishes for your books, both written and still in your head!

  16. Teri Thackston

    I worked with a critique partner for almost two years and it was a valuable experience. Most of the books I’ve published went through her capable hands at least once. Unfortunately my full time “real” job got in the way and we couldn’t spend the time together that we did. We still exchange small pieces now and then, but I really miss having her input.

  17. Anita Birt

    I belonged to a wonderful critique group for ten years but had to drop out owing to family health problems. Not mine. My husband’s. I miss those critique friends. Jo Beverley, Naomi Bellis, Lee MacKenzie, Solveig McLaren, Shereen Vedam. They live close by and are available should I ask for help.

    I miss the discipline of producing 2500 words every two weeks. I have slackened off and keep promising to get back on track. 500 words a day is nothing but I seem to run out of time. I blogged about time on the goddess blog to-day. http://www.goddessesofstorytelling.blogspot.com If I’m out of line by pitching the goddess blog, chop out that bit. Enjoy the week-end.

  18. Mona Risk

    Good critique partners are invaluable. I was part of four critique groups at various times before meeting my wonderful critique partners. One lives in England and is one of the finalists in the Romantic Time American Contest IV and the other lives in Canada. We exchanged critiques for two years and chatted via Skype once a week, before meeting in person at the FRW conference and the RWA National Conference. We write different genres and yet we understand each other’s voices and weaknesses.

    Now I am lucky to have found three great writing friends who listen when I ask questions and give me positive advice.

  19. Marianne Stephens

    Wonderful blog on critique groups. I’ve been in both online and face-to-face and see the advantages/disadvantages of both. But there’s no denying how important it is to be in one. I’ve even mentioned my critique group in my book dedications. They’re the ones that have kept me on track and motivated!
    Great insight, Kelly!

  20. anny cook

    Yep. Without a critique group the work just goes sideways…

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