I don’t know of any successful writer who doesn’t belong to a critique group of their peers. A good critique group can be invaluable. Never, and I mean NEVER, submit your work without several critiques. Yes, I know that when you finish your manuscript it feels good. You sit back and revel in your own brilliance. You have no doubts. You know it is perfect and once an editor lays eyes on it, they will scoop it up and it will need no changes. But even though you’ve written fiction, you’ve got to come back down to the real world. Although your work just might be brilliant, it probably isn’t perfect. As the writer, you are blind to its imperfections. We all hope an editor will love and accept our work as-is, but that just isn’t reality. And it is your job as the author to make sure you submit a manuscript as close to perfect as you can get it. But this task is nearly impossible while wearing your rose-colored writer goggles.
Rose-colored writer goggles are something every writer unconsciously wears when they’ve finished a manuscript they’re excited about. Similar to the beer goggle phenomena, which makes everybody look sexier than they really are; writer goggles make every word of your manuscript seem more magnificent than they really are. As long as the goggles remain in place, you will never see your manuscript for what it really is. Unfortunately, you can’t remove your writer goggles on your own. The best and easiest way to get those goggles off is to have them surgically removed by your critique group. Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt – much.
The first job of your critique group is to read your manuscript and tell you what the strong points are. At this, you might feel the goggles getting tighter. But then, truth be told, it is their duty to tell you also what doesn’t work. Plot issues, inconsistencies, point of view, whatever. Your critique group can point out where you lose your voice, where you’ve stopped being true to your character and other areas that just need more work. Here, the goggles get ripped off like a Band-Aid that’s been stuck on too long.
I’m not going to kid you. Removal of the rose-colored writer goggles can smart. You have to be strong and ready to receive criticism. It isn’t always easy. A good critique partner not only points out where you’ve gone astray but can also offer tips and ideas on improvement. Instead of telling you, “This doesn’t work,” you want to find someone who can tell you, “This doesn’t work, and here’s why and maybe you could try this instead.” Through it all you have to listen to what they have to say. You may not agree with all of it. That’s okay. Even so, you need to be open to their opinion and use it to your advantage. Take the advice you think works and disregard the rest. But be smart, if more than one critiquer points out the same issue, more than likely they’ve honed in on a weak spot that probably needs a revision. If they just don’t “get it” then go back and make sure you've written it in a way that fully shows your intentions. Sometimes, as writers, we forget to let the reader in on what's still in our heads. Don't take any criticism personally. Remember, you asked for the truth and you've got to realize all critiques are subjective. Not everyone is going to love your work, no matter how good it is. Now that the goggles are off, you should have a better view of your manuscript. Now it is time to jump in and add the gravy to the meat and potatoes you’ve already got. After all, we all know the gravy makes it taste better – right?
I have a critique group that I belong to on line with other picture book writers. We submit our work in a forum and add our critiques in the comments section. It is a closed group that only members can access. This group is perfect for pointing out the little things my writer’s goggles hid from me. This is where I start my revision process. I also belong to a critique group that meets face to face twice a month. We’ve come to know each other personally and we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The fun part of meeting like this is that when something isn’t working we pop into brainstorm mode which isn't as easy to do on the internet. For instance, I had a great premise for a new picture book and although I had an idea for the ending, it wasn’t a very strong one. Within seconds they all started throwing out ideas and each idea hatched another one and soon I had a terrific ending that I never would have thought of on my own. As I said before, a good critique group is invaluable.
Where do you find a critique group? Well, it really isn’t hard. Use what you’re familiar with to your advantage. Send out a call on Twitter, on Facebook, LinkedIn, through SCBWI, and other places you have access to. I found my online group through Verla Kay’s site (www.verlakay.com) by posting on her message board. My face-to-face group was the product of SCBWI. If you can’t find one, start one. Again, use the above tools to your advantage. Put it out there. If you build it, they will come.