A Critique Story (Not Flushed Down)

Confession: I almost forgot to post today. I should be ashamed. Should be. But I'm not. You see, I gots my ARCs yesterday, and I'm still reeling. They're not pretty, just a plain blue cover with ordering information on it, but it's the first time I've seen Happy Hour in book form. To commemorate such an auspicious occasion, I'm running a little contest. I know I can part with at least one of these bad boys for my League readers, so just leave a comment after this post and I'll choose the winner at random. I'm gonna throw in a cover flat, just cuz I like the shiny. Good luck y'all.


Now on to critique, and in lieu of a lecture on how to find a group, which is what I'd originally planned, I'll just tell you about my own search.

Back when I was just tinkering around with words and writing short stories, the only people that read them were the very ones least likely to give me an honest critique; friends and family but never my wife, oddly enough, hers was always a critical eye--I think she knew I was serious before I did.

My first step toward a professional review of my work was a fiction writing class at a local community college. I'd taken creative writing classes in the past but since then my life had taken a turn toward social services and stuck there for over a decade. The class itself turned out to be a critique group rather than any structured lesson. The professor was a career counselor the school had conned into filling a seat, as happens in smaller institutions. Luckily for me, their were quite a few good writers in the class, two of whom had published some shorts and poetry.

The class taught me a lot about constructive criticism versus personal attack. This one woman--who rarely brought anything to share--would make a derogatory comment to the effect of: "That belongs in the trash can" or "you should have flushed that one down." Super helpful. I learned to disregard her, because the counselor/teacher never did a thing to keep the bitch in line. The others in the group were very precise in their critique and balanced the positive with the areas that needed work and suggestions for correcting them. Good peeps. And my writing improved during that time.

But, as is the thing with classes, they end.

I started searching on the internet, I dismissed the idea of online writing groups simply because I need the face to face (this can't be surprising, as my work was entirely interactive). I tried out a large writing group at our local Borders and was not happy. It seemed to be all about back-patting, heavy on the readings, slim on critique, plus there were thirty people there. Not for me.

I became discouraged, and while there seemed to be groups at every major chain store, I was concerned that they'd all be the same. So I pulled out the old class email list, and made a suggestion. Let's meet up.

I had three takers and we met at a local coffee shop. The owner's wife happened to be a mystery writer, she joined. Later, I took a workshop from the awesome Jessica Morrell, developmental editor extraordinaire, and met a couple of sci-fi fantasy writers. Our group is seven strong now. We meet weekly to call each other on our bullshit and offer awesome suggestions and drink coffee and take a little bit of the isolation out of this work. We're all genre writers but different enough to add something unusual to each other's fiction. I couldn't be happier, and we don't have any bashers. Well. Just that one time, and it was dealt with.

I guess the moral is, it never hurts to ask. Check out your local bookstore groups, maybe you won't like it, but there might be someone you connect with. Recruit! Ask around, Craigslist is another resource, college writing departments, libraries.

There's always online, too. I've met really great people since all this started and if things hadn't progressed with The South Sound Algonquins (that's us), then I would have certainly asked and offered to critique the interneters.

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