Because I have a new book coming out on March X, my publisher asked me to write a post for the Inspired Quill blog on how to get the most from a critique group. I’ve belonged to a lot of different crit groups over the years and was happy to share whatever bits of wisdom I’d picked up.
After I wrote that post, though, I realized that I’d only talked about how to get the most from being critiqued. But in the groups I’ve belonged to, I’ve also learned a great deal from critiquing other writers and from hearing them be critiqued.
Learning from critiquing
When I critique someone else, I react to the draft I’m reading. That is, I start off as a reader. But my reaction can’t stop with the one I’d have if I were reading the piece for fun as a published story. Once I’ve reacted to reading, I have to turn into a writer. I have to analyze my reaction and articulate it for my fellow group member.
In my current group, meetings are time limited, so critters have to use their time effectively. Folks in that group have good control of language, so we seldom talk about that. We don’t waste time on things like typos, though we do mark them for the person to correct later.
Instead we spend our time talking about what worked for us in the story and what didn’t work. For me, this means I have to turn an unconscious reaction into conscious knowledge. Is my attention wandering? Why? Are the characters coming alive? Why not? And so on.
From unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence
In turning my reader reaction into writer knowledge, I’m moving up and down a four-stage hierarchy that writing advice books sometimes talk about.
Stage one: Unconscious incompetence . The writer is doing things wrong without knowing it. Or perhaps “wrong” is not the word, since there are few absolute wrongs. Most things can work if done well. But that’s not where the writer is at this stage.
Stage two: Conscious incompetence. The writer knows something is weak but doesn’t know how to fix it. This stage is discouraging compared to the previous one. The writer was probably happier when they thought the story was fine. But sensing something is wrong is actually an improvement. If you know you have a flaw, you’re making progress even if you haven’t figured out how to fix it yet.
Stage three: Conscious knowledge. The writer has craft knowledge and can make an effort to use it. They know, for instance, that internalization can help bring a character alive. But they have to make an effort to include it because they tend to be absorbed in setting up their plot instead.
Stage four: Unconscious knowledge. The writer does most things well without having to think about it. This kind of writing is very hard for me to critique because it’s often so smooth that I can’t figure out how the writer is producing it. I can, and do, offer praise for the effect. But it’s more helpful for me and everyone else if I can pinpoint how it’s achieved so the rest of us can do it too.
For me, that kind of articulated knowledge comes partly from critiquing other people
Learning from hearing others critiqued
As a final point, I think I learn most from hearing about ways to improve my own work because that advice is tailored for me. But I also learn from hearing other writers critiqued. I’m not defensive then. I’m open to whatever the critter is saying. I often wind up thinking about that advice when I’m working on my own stuff.
Critique groups have helped my writing enormously. I recommend them. If you’re having trouble finding one, perhaps this post will help.
The Trickster is now available for pre-order in both paperback and e-book
“When it comes to family, you’re rich… and I’m dirt poor.”
Amid the intoxicating chaos of Winter Festival, attendant Dilly and Hedge Mage Fitch cross paths.
After surviving Rin’s wretched streets, Dilly aims to prove herself to Lady Elenia, who brought her back to Lac’s Holding and blessed her with a new life of comfort and luxury. Fitch seeks vengeance for a loved one, killed by a liquor that makes one vulnerable to suggestion.
But their separate goals are derailed when Dilly discovers Elenia’s secret lover is the head of a too-ambitious kinship, and Fitch finds his own smuggler-family pressuring him into using his unique nudging abilities for mutinous deeds.
When murmurs of treason break out in Lac’s Holding, it becomes clear that only Dilly and Fitch know the truth.
The question is how they can save the city when those they’re loyal to stand in their way.