Today's wonderful writerly advice is brought to you by Shauna LaVoy Reynolds. Take it away, Shauna!
My name and the illustrator’s name are on the cover. My agent’s and editor’s names were in the deal announcement. My husband and kids are named on the dedication page, and even my dog is mentioned in my jacket flap bio.
Anna, Andrea, and Amelia deserve a mention too, so I’m going to do it here. I don’t think I’d be published without my critique group.
We found each other 4 years ago, on the 12x12 message boards. Our goals were similar. We wanted to find agents, we wanted to be published, and we each wanted to write 12 drafts over the course of a year. We needed each other to make it work. Sometimes I don’t know if my writing is any good. It’s hard to separate myself from my stories. I ask my family, but their responses are — I almost hate to say it — too positive! My critique group is built on encouragement, but we’re also comfortable giving constructive criticism. We understand the necessity of criticism to strengthen our work, write the best stories we can, and achieve our writing goals. We’ve also helped each other with queries, bios, moral support, and the occasional bit of parenting advice. We live in 4 different states and haven’t met in person — not yet, at least. But I can’t wait to see their books on my shelf someday soon.
Here are 5 ways working with a critique group has improved my writing:
Sure, I can tell myself that I need to finish this draft by the last weekend of the month. But I’m a lot more likely to do it if there are three sets of eager eyes waiting for it. A critique group helps me stay motivated.
2. Power in numbers
One great thing about having a critique group of 3 or more, rather than a single partner, is that we can comment on each other’s comments! It’s easy to write off a single comment I disagree with as a matter of opinion, but when others agree or make similar notes, I know I should take a closer look.
I frequently see new writers expressing concern about sharing material for critique. (It’s a common message board topic.) They’re afraid they might find an unscrupulous critique partner who might steal their idea or even their story! It’s hard to trust a practical stranger with something so close to your heart. There’s an element of blind faith involved in sharing your work with someone new. But the more time I’ve spent with my critique group, the more trust we’ve built. While we started out sharing complete and semi-polished manuscripts with each other, I’m now comfortable sharing unfinished drafts or even throwing out “does this concept make any sense?” questions in the very early stages of drafting.
4. Someone to impress
We hope that our stories will eventually reach their intended audience. But until then, it’s fun to know we can make each other laugh, cry, or say “hmm!” with the stories we write. It’s nice to have an audience in the meantime. (Bonus: we all have children, so we can also get that crucial “other people’s kids” feedback!)
5. The support of people who “get it.”
I’m sure you’ve seen it — that look on your non-writer friends faces when you’re gushing about a much-anticipated new release from your favorite author or making Caldecott predictions. And I’m sure there’s certain questions and assumptions about how the industry works that you’ve heard over and over again. It turns out that not everyone is obsessed with kidlit. Who knew? It’s such a comfort to know who to email about writing triumphs and roadblocks, but also about picture books in general.
I'm so thankful for Anna, Andrea, and Amelia. I recently looked at their notes on early drafts of POETREE and it wouldn't be the same book without their insight and encouragement. So if you’re ready to take your writing to the next level, try to find a critique group. They’re the coworkers/friends who will be your loudest, proudest cheerleaders. (And tell you when you might want to try a stronger adjective.)
Shauna LaVoy Reynolds' debut book, POETREE, published by Dial/Penguin will be released on March 19th! You can find the preorder links on our Books page.
We are a group of writers and illustrators who have debut books (actual debuts , debuts as author-illustrators, or debuts with medium/large publishers) forthcoming in 2019. Thank you for joining us on our exciting journey!