I acquired something very, very valuable recently: a crit group.
When I started writing my first novel, I talked about it to a few friends. I had a couple of beta readers and one fantastic alpha reader. But what I didn't have were writer friends. And by that I mean writer friends who weren't related to me or married to me or otherwise friends with me. People who would give me the hard facts about my fiction. People whose brutal, honest feedback about my work would really help.
That's not to say my alpha-betas weren't helpful. They were A-Mazing. But if the book was bad, they were going to love it (and me) anyway ... and I'm sure they wouldn't have had an easy time telling me it sucked. So what I needed were people who'd be as impartial and pitiless as the agents who will (hopefully) pick my manuscript up from the sludge pile. Agents who don't know me, don't love me and certainly won't love my book just because it's mine.
Aargh!! What to do? In a city of a million people, you'd think it'd be pretty easy to find a writers' group, but It. Is. Not. I googled writers, writing, writing groups, writing conferences, writing workshops. I pored over social media and discovered jillions of other people like me out there who struggle with this writing business (get it?) on a daily basis. But I had a hard time finding writers who were nearby.
Eventually, I did find a few. It wasn't a google search that did it. It was plain and simple word of mouth ("You're a writer? Oh, my neighbor's a writer, too. You should meet her....") and good ol' coincidence ("Hey! I didn't know you'd be at this party....") Finding them has been all I hoped it would be. They, too, are A-Mazing.
And now, through another chance encounter, I finally have a bona-fide critique group. (Woo-hoo!!) We met at a 12-week writing workshop that took place last fall at a local university. The professor was awesome, very encouraging (and I know that's not always the case, so I consider myself super lucky to have worked with him). And the students, now my critique partners, are talented writers and critics. Our work isn't similar - in fact, our group of seven writers represents seven different genres - but we all have similar goals.
We also have another thing in common: We need each other! They'd been floundering out there alone in this writing thing, just like me. We had our first non-workshop-related meeting this week, and it was A - wait for it - Mazing. We critiqued two manuscripts, and the critiques were honest, brutal, merciless, helpful. Exactly what I need as I get ready to step off the ledge ... ahem ... I mean, query a manuscript.
Photo credit Phillip Hagerman