Thursday, February 21, 2008

Being a Knight Writer: Critique Groups

Years back I was fortunate to be invited into an exclusive online critique group of published authors when I was yet unpublished. The group consisted of authors with three, ten, and even fifty picture books under their belts. I felt totally unworthy to have gained access to their insight and talent. It was like being a peasant invited to sit with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

I think they wanted some new blood, or maybe they were just feeling generous. But my whole life changed with that invitation. Suddenly I was in the midst of skilled writers who could tell me what was right and wrong with my work. I was over-writing, leaving in too many details, using too much dialogue, and trying too hard to force a moral or message. They were patient with me. They were honest. It stung a little, but I improved. Despite what many people think, there really are particular techniques you need to understand to craft a picture book manuscript.

Writers in my critique group send out draft manuscripts via email, and everyone gives honest feedback within a few days. Honesty is the key. Group members have got to be willing to give and receive constructive criticism, or the membership loses its effectiveness. Feedback from serious writers is worth more than gold. In my opinion, you’ve got to have many sets of eyes read your piece before you send it off to an editor. You want those eyes to catch what you’ve missed. You should crave the opportunity for effective revision.

You might find critique groups on the internet, or at writer’s conferences. Join one, my noble ones, and godspeed.

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