Wednesday, September 21, 2011
A writer's mind is a very unique place. The average person goes through their day cataloging events that seem important for later recall. A writer on the other hand, is constantly cataloging every minute detail that would make for interesting characters. Every twitch, fidget and overly loud phrase becomes fodder for use to feed into the giant maw in our heads that chews up our day and spits out compelling fiction--or at least we think it is. The ordinary people in our life just don't get that while our conversation about the person they sat next to on the bus is very interesting, our minds are recording every detail of the strange man pacing while yelling into his cell phone, creating his back story and possibly even a little bit of plot for him. It's not our faults, it's just so hard to turn off. And everywhere we go there is a story.
Enter the writer's group. When I am in mine, I am surrounded by people who's minds wander the same way mine does. We could be in the middle of a in depth conversation about the merits of ebook vs traditional publishing (SOOOOO not going there) and I can suddenly ask what flower would best cover the smell of a decaying body. None of them eye me askance and wonder if there is a serial killer in their midst (though in reality any good author has to have at least one murder under their belt if not more. I personally have killed over twenty people over the years) No men in white coats get called (though perhaps they should be since I DO hear voices chattering in my head). But when I get a calm educated answer to questions like that (And I have actually asked that one for the record), I know I am in the right place and these people are my peers.
Now onto critique partners. I don't advice using a friend for this because to be frankly honest, good critique hurts. You pour your heart and soul out through your keyboards and any human would be attached to that. It's the ability to think of it as a healing pain that makes it so much easier. And you will most likely become friends with your critique partner, who is privy to some of your most intimate internal processes. But the most important thing about a critique partner is you need someone who isn't going to pull punches. I'm not saying you're looking for some sadist who won't be happy until you're curled in the fetal position mumbling to yourself, but you need someone who will tell you how it is. If you give your manuscript to ten people and nine tell you "it's good" and the tenth comes back with a list of things that could use improvement, don't necessarily blow off this one person. See if their suggestions have merit. You aren't looking to be told what you want to hear, you're looking to hear what your reader is really thinking. And that one person might be a psycho and you need to ignore them. But if they're right, do whatever it takes to get them to agree to critique for you in the future.
And lastly we have beta readers. A beta takes a look at a manuscript after it is edited, formatted and ready for upload to catch any mistake that might have slipped through all the edits. You need fresh eyes for this, someone who's never read the work before. I have at least four of these. One is a grammar Nazi who will find and point out every misused/typo-ed word. Another is not afraid to go "Wait, this doesn't make sense." Another will argue (or rather passionately discuss) mythology with me. No two minds read the same thing the same way and the more variety you get in your critquers and betas, the more rounded your final product is going to be. And remember, if you don't think you can handle this many people telling your their opinions, how are you going to handle all the people who shell out their hard earned cash for your book and find it subparr? They won't be afraid to let you know...