The Community of Criticism and Construction

A little while ago I blogged about the things I wish I’d known when I started writing. Now I’d like to unpack each one. The first to discuss is Seeking Constructive Criticism.  

Most of us have dreamed our version of the idyllic writer’s life. For me it’s a cozy but spacious cabin with panoramic views of dramatic snow-capped mountains and a Starbucks around the corner. In my mind, I sit across from the fire and speed write beautiful, heart searing, grammatically precise and gripping stories, my soul soaring with every glance at the majesty of God’s stunning creation.

Reality sees me at a desk in my bedroom, overlooking the street, juggling the demands of a busy military husband and two children. Groceries, laundry, school run, worship team, PTO. When I get chance to write, it sometimes comes out well. Mostly it’s a case of getting the general idea of a scene down and then fixing it later. With twenty years of writing news copy and fifteen writing magazine articles, I thought I had a decent grip of sentence structure and basic grammar.

Apparently not.

Once I started meeting regularly with other writers in my ACFW chapter, and attending conferences, I started making “proper” writer friends. Over time, I found a critique partner and several other writers who would graciously cast an eye over something I’d written, or who I could turn to for a piece of quick advice.

For example – when I complete a chapter I send it to my friend and she reads it, turns or track changes, destroys it and then sends it back. Then I see all the mistakes and polish it up before the editor sees it.

I recently wrote a whole new ending for my first novel “Renewed”. The idea came from a very well-established author and I then sent the chapter to her, my critique partner and another friend. The key part that I’m hoping will give readers that “aah” moment made one of them cry, one email me “I love it” and made the third similarly happy. Phew. Their reactions made me teary.

In another instance, I entered a contest and needed a fresh set of eyes on my submission. My partner pulled out all the repetitions and tidied up the grammar. I’m frequently amazed at how someone with twenty years of professional writing behind them can make so many errors, and miss spotting them herself. I sent it in. Weeks passed until I found out I didn’t final in the contest. I had a lot of other things going on that week so when the news came, I was crushed by my perceived lack of success.

I was crying in my car when an email from one writing friend dropped into my inbox. She wasn’t asking about the contest, but I told her exactly how I was feeling. This person has a plenty busy life. Two dozen books in print and a growing career as a filmmaker. And yet (I love that phrase) she took the time to offer encouragement. The fact that she’d even reply boosted my (now crippled artistic) spirits. Then friend number two who’s latest release is (in my opinion) one of the best romantic suspense novels released all year) chimed in with tales of her contest woes. And no doubt both of them prayed. Then friend three, my critique partner started sending prayers by text (prexting?).

Here’s my point – I went from tears behind the wheel to feeling uplifted and propelled forward. Being a writer is hard. It can be lonely. Community matters. Right after He created Adam, God made Eve. Critique partners are a crucial part of the journey. They cheer you on as you write, they spot any glaring errors and they pick you up when you stumble. I’m quite certain I wouldn’t have finished my first novel and be halfway through my second without mine.

Let me urge you to join a writer’s group or attend a conference (or both).

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  1. I have written a memoir and don’t have a clue on how to proceed with it. I would love any feedback you could provide.

  2. Yes, Debb, we all need community! I love my critique group and mastermind groups. Without that encouragement, I don’t know where I’d be. And even though I only get to see you once a year at an annual writers conference, reconnecting is something I look forward to every year! It’s like a reunion with all my favorite peeps!

  3. As a former Special Forces medic, circa (1971) Cambodia. I understand the life you share with your husband. I also serve the Lord with all that I have, nothing else has ever made any sense. I also know the joy of flying into the sky to be close to him. Keep on with your work, I will be eagerly watching.