Today, Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance author Jami Gray gives her insight into the benefits of being part of a critique group. It makes an awesome read, especially since it draws on personal experience.
SHADOW’S EDGE, the first book in Jami Gray’s amazing KYN KRONICLES urban fantasy series is FREE for a limited time! For more details on the book and an enticing excerpt, click here.
Guest post by Jami Gray
Critique Groups Are For Everyone
Let me just start out by saying, I’m a HUGE advocate of critique groups. If there was one small gem I could share with any writer it would be: Go forth and become part of a critique group.
I can hear the moans and groans now. “I’ve already tried, but…” and the list of reasons why to avoid a critique group grows by the minute.
“…it was too big”
“…the people were strange”
“…they didn’t get my writing style”
“…I don’t have time”
“…meet new people? Really?”
and so on.
Don’t leave! Let me tell you how I finally, after three years of critique group shopping, found my home with the 7 Evil Dwarves. I even stayed for seven years, an eternity for any critique group.
Writing has been part of who I am for…forever. While in college I thought being the anti-social, reclusive hermit was a pre-requisite for every aspiring writer. I wouldn’t share what I wrote unless I was submitting to publishers. I know (ducking the head), if I could, I’d go back and smack myself for that alone.
Somehow as I was finishing up my first college tour, I managed to come out of my cave long enough to marry my best friend. A few years passed, writing took a bit of a backseat as I finished an advanced tour of college, (yes, professional student did get mentioned once or twice). Writing got pushed back even further when my little family of two, went to three and eighteen months later, to four.
As you can see, insanity was bound to set in and when it finally began popping up in various forms, I knew it was time to turn back to my own self-therapy—writing.
My first problem was nerves. I could write. That part was easy. I could do it hiding in a closet, under a blanket with a flashlight so the little rug crawlers couldn’t find me. I could jot a few lines in-between real work and family-raising time. Writing is a solo adventure, right? Wrong.
My very loving, and patient, hubby finally dragged me out of the house, pushed me out of the moving car and said, “Go spend some time with this Mothers’ Writing group.” He didn’t even wait for my response, as if it could’ve been heard over the squealing tires disappearing in a cloud of dust.
I stumbled to my feet and cautiously made my way into my very first writing group. They were great—women from various walks of life, writing in a variety of genres. This first group became the ones who made me realize how valuable a support group (aka critique group) is to a writer.
Feeling bolder, I waved good-bye to that group and began a long journey on my search for “my” critique group. Considering I write Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance, it was a rocky road.
The first group was large, twenty people at a minimum, and every genre under the sun was represented. It was heartbreaking to hear how someone thought my work was “too dark and depressing”, or another couldn’t understand “why anyone would believe magic existed in the real world”. I almost gave up, but do you know what I found?
The core of the 7 Evil Dwarves. These were writers of Speculative Fiction, a term I hadn’t heard used before. Soon, four or five of us decided a smaller group would be more productive. Plus, wouldn’t it help if everyone knew what Spec Fic was?
Our group underwent a great many changes. Anything important always does. It took us almost five years to create a solid, steady group. We had some great members stop and share their creations with us, and then move on. And yes, we’ve had a few entertaining guests, which I’m under threat of death by zombies if I reveal, so I’ll leave it to your imagination. You’ll probably come up with more exciting scenarios anyway.
There were times I was scared to death to set my stuff before my group. The whispers of my very loving and supportive critique group twisted through my mind when I wrote. It helped if I was a few (or more) chapters ahead of where they were critiquing, but when they were right behind me—I found myself overanalyzing every word I typed. I became hyperaware of small edit type things instead of getting the basic story out on paper.
See the Evil 7 were damn good. They caught everything. From how many times I used “ing” to how much I truly suck at math anything (do you know what a polyhedron is? I don’t.). They made great therapists. I mean, how many of your friends would take the time to discuss the nature of relationships between dragons and warlocks, or how manipulative a ghost can be with three young friends? Uh-huh, I thought so.
Then came the point in ever writer’s life, I outgrew my group. It wasn’t an easy decision. Seven years I spent with these fantastic writers, mining every bit of advice, hoarding their critiques for more. But things changed, and so did my writing, to the extent that I felt our critiques weren’t quite the chisel they’d once been. So I bid the Evil 7 adieu with many hugs, and back out I went. This time, I found writing partners, two to three individuals I could trust to give me honest feedback, because in the end, that is what writers want and need.
I’m still a firm believer in critique groups. While I struggled to build my worlds into cohesive realities, breath life into my characters, and untangle the twists and turns of my plots, I knew there was this great group who had my back. The Evil 7 might have driven me to screaming when they pointed out how much my new character channeled my previous one, or questioned the depth of trust between characters who’d been to hell and back, but you know what? Even though the holes they pointed out scared me, I was ever so grateful, because when it was all done and I clicked save for the last time, I had a story that was stronger than what I started with. That’s why I loved my critique group, even when they scared me.
Pick up SHADOW’S EDGE for FREE for a limited time and dive into the shadows of the Kyn…
Shadow’s Edge (The Kyn Kronicles, Book 1)
Author: Jami Gray
Genres: Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
AMAZON / BARNES AND NOBLE / BLACK OPAL BOOKS / ARe / SMASHWORDS / iBOOKS / KOBO / SCRIBD
SHADOW’S EDGE: BOOK 1 OF THE KYN KRONICLES
Everyone fears what hunts in the shadows—especially the monsters…
When the supernatural lurks in the shadows of the mundane, hunting monsters requires unique skills, like those of Raine McCord. A series of deaths threatens to reveal the Kyn community and forces her to partner with the sexy Gavin Durand.
As the trail leads to the foundation haunting Raine’s childhood, she and Gavin must unravel lies and betrayals to discover not only each other, but the emerging threat to them and the entire magical community.
About the Author
Jami Gray is the award winning, multi-published author of the Urban Fantasy series, The Kyn Kronicles, and the Paranormal Romantic Suspense series, PSY-IV Teams. She can be soothed with coffee and chocolate. Surrounded by Star Wars obsessed males and two female labs moonlighting as the Fur Minxes, she escapes by playing with the voices in her head.
Come stalk Jami at any of these fine locations:
9 thoughts on “Critique Groups are for everyone – Guest Post by Jami Gray”
Really interesting read. I’ve never been part of a critique group, but I do have some extremely talented beta readers who aren’t afraid to mercilessly tell me exactly what they think. How did you determine that you’d outgrown the group?
It was hard, Kim. Partly because the group had become close friends, but the dynamics and personalities in the group were changing as well. We were down to two, sometimes three members of the core group, and the newcomers were starting at the point I had been at seven years previously. So when I began to realize that the feedback I was getting wasn’t helping my writing stretch and grow, but focusing more on basic mechanics or the comments were few and far between, I knew I had to move on. Add in the fact I found myself becoming frustrated as I gave the same feedback I’d given on previous pieces, because none of it had been implemented, it made me wonder if I was phoning it in at that point.
Between those factors and some massive changes on the personal front, I decided to hone down to two to three other writers who had been at this as long or longer than I had, and their critiques were more on character development, story arcs, motivation, etc. which is what I found most valuable.
However, I do say in touch with the Evil 7 and offer help when and where I can, but it was time to turn that group over to the new regime.
Beta readers are a huge help, especially if you write in series (which I do). Since they’re familiar with your world, they we’ll be your best set of eyes on details that matter.
Good luck, Kim and thank you for stopping by!
Very interesting. I’m with Kim; I consider you, Maria, part of my critique group, in your awesome beta-reader capacity 🙂
Hey Nicholas, at the stage I’m at in my writing, I use my new, smaller critique group as beta readers, and because they know my world and characters, their insight is invaluable. It might just be me, but I’m starting to believe beta readers are my critique groups. It helps because those beta readers just happen to be writers. =)
Thank you so much for stopping by and I wish you a wonderful weekend!
“I’m starting to believe beta readers are my critique groups” – that’s exactly how I perceive it 🙂
Have a lovely week!
Thank you, Maria for letting me come over and share. I hope your readers find this helpful, or at least a push in the right direction. Happy Saturday!
Thank you, Kim, for adding to the value of the post and Jami for your detailed response.
As for Nicholas, your writing is great, so beta reading for you is cakewalk. Thanks for the positive vote!
Like others commented here, I have never participated in a critique group but do get awesome feedback from my beta readers, not to mention my husband who is a ruthless critic and therefore indispensable to me. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing your account though – a terrific post 🙂
Thank you for swinging by and visiting, Effrosyni. In my very humble opinion, if you’re able to get critical feedback from beta readers, a crit group, or from valued friends/readers, you’re on the right track. It always pays to have another set of eyes on your work to focus on things you may miss.
Take care and have a great week!