Lessons I’ve learned being in a crit group

My IRL crit group just voted on a name. We are now called The Mightier Thing. In honor of such a glorious, epic and celebratory occasion of Naming, I have some gems I’ve learned for you. Maybe you’ll think they are gems, too.

Not in any particular order.

1. Just because you don’t like a writing genre, style, POV, etc. Doesn’t mean you can’t recognize good or bad writing. If you can’t give someone a decent crit because you don’t like the POV, then maybe you need to do some more work on your own writing. I’m so not a fan of erotica; I can’t even tell you what makes good erotica or bad erotica. But one of the best crit partners I had for about a year wrote nothing but erotica. I can tell you if the story works, if it’s passive or if (blush) it did it’s job. I can easily crit based on the writing alone. The only thing that would be missing is whether or not I would pick it up in the first place or if I got into the story. If it’s a genre (or whatever) I only feel meh about, it’s not likely going to change but I’m not going to let that get in my way. If it does change, then you can bet I’ll mention that bit.

2. Not everyone makes a good crit partner. When people first start out, they feel like they need someone, anyone. Not true. Pick your partners wisely.

3. They are great for motivation. We all have lives with jobs, kids, etc. and sometimes we don’t feel like writing. Crit groups are great for making that happen anyway.

4. Revenge crits: completely immature.

5. Sandwich method sucks. You don’t need it in regular crit group where everyone knows each other and doesn’t need anyone trying desperately to find something good about something that sucks. Personally, I don’t think the sandwich method is all that helpful – people focus on the problems anyway. You can’t take things personally in any artform. Might as well learn that now.

6. Know whose crits to ignore (hopefully this person is not in your IRL crit group. If so, you have bigger problems).

7. Know whose crits to really take to heart and think about even when you disagree. You might find that they aren’t so far off the mark.

8. Don’t crit a 7000 word piece/chapter when you started repeating your comments 1500 words in. Just stop. All continuing will do is frustrate you and really make the writer feel bad. Tell them you’re repeating yourself. Give the writer a chance to fix those issues throughout and crit again when you can focus on other things and maybe even get to the actual story.

9. I know I said I don’t like the sandwich method. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t mention what’s good, especially when you really like something.

10. Writing is not just a clever turn of phrase. I’ve met a few writers that can really come up with some great lines. But the rest…

11. Don’t waste my time. Don’t have your entire MS ready for crit and then just start subbing one chapter after another without fixing problems from previous crits that need to be applied to all chapters. See #8. Fix it before sending something else.

12. Some people just don’t learn. It’s a sad realization to come to because the critter feels guilty. Don’t feel bad for not critting this unteachable person. If this person is in your IRL group, uh oh, your group is in trouble and now the real issue is finding a nice way to relieve this person of his/her membership.

13. Your writing is not as good as you think it is. It can always be better. Someone is guaranteed to not like it. No matter how perfect and polished you’ve made it, there will be comments. Just always remember #6 and #7.

14. Even though your writing is not as good as you think it is, it doesn’t mean it sucks. You might actually be a fantastic writer. I can still find flaws in the Great Works. That doesn’t mean it isn’t perfect the way it is and that you need to fall into the bottom of a bottle. You can still be great and be confident in your work. Just don’t be an asshole.

15. Don’t be an asshole.

16. Be okay with someone telling you you’re being an asshole when you are.

17. Study your craft. Read a lot. Analyze bits of what you read and why you love it or hate it.

18. You can’t get rid of every was, nor should you. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

19. Redlines are better than vague comments that don’t actually mean anything. “This bothered me” is not a crit, it’s an opinion. Support your opinion or keep it to yourself because I can’t do anything with it.

20. We all know “show, don’t tell.” This applies to crits as well. For me, I found the easiest way to learn was to have someone show me how to fix a sentence. When I first started writing, I would get these comments like “passive” or “show” and I understood what it meant, I was just unclear on the how-to-do-that part. Until one kind crit partner redlined an entire chapter for me and showed me what to do. Bam. I got it. It was that simple for me once I could see it go from passive to active or telling to showing, etc.

21. Be aware of the difference between rewriting and showing you an example of what someone is talking about. I’ve literally had to use really dumb cliches and make shit up because someone felt that any example I gave on how to make something work better for me was “rewriting.” It’s an annoying argument to have.

22. Sometimes comments really are rewriting. Also annoying.

23. Read what you are critting as a reader first. Then go back and look at it as a writer. The first impression as a reader is the most important and will prevent you from asking really stupid questions in the first two paragraphs. Questions like: “Where are they?” “What color is it?” “Why is she so angry?” “Who is this person?” “Is this person important?” Really. It’s just ridiculous. You can’t answer those questions in two paragraphs anyway and if you do it’s called an info dump. Critting hard and critting stupid are two different things. Don’t crit desperate to point out every perceivable flaw. Use some common sense.

*UPDATE: I can’t believe it but I actually have another one to add. Thanks to one of my IRL crit partners, I might add. Sometimes I really do think he’s trying to kill me.

24. Remember the previous chapters. If you can’t, either reread or at least just go back and check something before you make a comment that is clearly answered in a previous chapter. Don’t make someone tell you to go back and reread then get back to you. Or don’t comment on it at all if you don’t want to do that because now the comment is useless. It might have worked, it might not have. But now the person you’re critting will not know, at least not from you.*

I think I’ll probably update this as I go. I’m sure there’s more to learn and plenty I’ve already forgotten because it’s just a part of how I am now.

Feel free to add your lessons in the comments.

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Cheryl Murphy is Asian with brown hair in a single braid and a smirk.

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