Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Critique Groups? I Keep Them at Arm's Length

Lots of authors flock to their local writing club, etc., in part for a chance to join critique groups. I avoid them. It's not that I'm afraid of criticism. I'm a journalism copy editor, so I know the application of criticism is a valuable tool. I just think that critique groups, like so much of the publishing world, tends to pen authors into a middle ground and rejects the truly original.

There is a second part to my hesitance. I know my first novel will be trimmed and bolstered by an agent and editor, and I am fine with that. In both cases, I tip my hat (and lower my tendency for hurt feelings) because the input comes from professionals. The critique group? I don't see that level of professionalism there.

Let me illustrate. I sat down with another author and gave a short synopsis of my first novel. That novel has two story lines, is complex, my characters are conflicted and challenged constantly, the plot wanders across genres as I create little vignettes in both story lines, etc. The author listening to me writes vampire novels, and the look I got was like I was speaking a foreign language. The response from the other author was tepid, at best. I thought back later that if that author was in a critique group, she might comment that my novel might be well-served by adding a character that has fangs and draws considerably more blood ... but adding a touch of humor might help, too.

I don't shout this fact to the heavens, but I like thinking outside the box. I like writing outside the box. I like finding a path to a good plot that is unlike the paths taken by so many others. My fear of critique groups? That they will herd me back inside the box, and in the process try to get me to that soft, muddled (but very sellable) middle ground.

Is it a matter of integrity or profits? For writers such as Neil Gaiman, Jeffrey Deaver, James Patterson, John Hart, etc., etc., that question is moot. They are inside the velvet ropes. They are established. They will almost have to write their way out of favor now that they are able to do what publishing houses love most ... sell books. Me? I'm on the outside looking in, still knocking on the door about my first novel as I create my second. There is a cast of tens of thousands of us out here. But you know what? I'm not going to turn to those others out here and ask if they want to form a critique group.

Stay creative. Keep trying. Develop a thick skin. Believe in yourself. One of these days, someone else will believe in you, too. Amen.

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