Authors Answer 39 – Critique and Writing Groups

At this rate I’ll never catch up. *grumble* I had more visitors this week – my nephew and his girlfriend – but all the family visits are now over for at least two months, so life can get back to normal. More or less. Let’s get this week’s question out of the way at least.

Unfortunately it’s not a particularly inspiring one for me: Do you use critique groups or writer’s groups? Are they helpful?

As always there’s a short answer (‘no’) and a slightly more elaborate answer. The more elaborate answer exposes the down to the roots cynicism that permeates the very core of my being.

Basically, I don’t trust writer’s groups. They’re full of wannabe authors who want nothing more than to show off to other people how wonderful they are, and how much they know. They do this by criticising other people’s work and comparing it to their own. (“This bit in your plot doesn’t work. If you read chapter seven of my magnum opus, you’ll see how it’s properly done.”)

Okay, so there are probably writer groups out there who genuinely want to help other people, and whose members reap the benefits of the lively discussion. I just know that any time I’ve had a complete unknown comment on my writing, they’ve either nitpicked it to the extent that I was advised to change every second word, or they’ve suggested I change something which I specifically intended to be as it was.

Case in point: a scene where Kai (the hero in my second book) describes his very first sexual encounter. He was dragged off and stripped naked by a girl several years older than him, and although initially terrified, this quickly changed to enthusiasm when she stripped naked as well. His nickname at the time was Rat, and when his erection emerged the girl’s reaction was as follows:

“She laughed and said that she’d have to find me a new nickname, because no rat she’d ever seen had a tail that big.”

The unknown and unwanted critique I received was that she should have said ‘no rat she’d ever seen had a tail that long’.

And okay, I’ll admit that that seems a more logical thing to say. But really, did you think that was a typo or something? That I don’t know the difference between big and long? I’ll admit to following the romance cliché of my male heroes having big cocks, but I specifically make them have fat cocks, not long ones. Long cocks are overrated – it’s girth that matters. So no, I didn’t want her to say ‘a tail that long’, I deliberately made her say ‘a tail that big’.

Not obvious, no, but my personal choice. And I’ve found it nothing but annoying to get comments like that from total strangers with completely unknown writing skills. Who are you to criticise my writing? No, I’m no Robin Hobb, but I’ll only accept criticism from people I trust and whose own skills I have faith in. (Hello Hillary!)

To each their own, but you’ll not see me on writing forums. And if that means I’ll remain forever mediocre, well, at least I won’t have descended daily into a frothing rage at the next person who told me that I ought to write that sentence slightly differently. I get angry enough at other things in my life, I don’t need to volunteer for more.

See what other, more rational authors think of this here, at Jay Dee’s blog.

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