Writing is a solitary occupation. Sure, people talk about writing, discuss what they are writing or hope to write, but at the end of the day the writer faces a blank page. Alone. One wag said writing was easy—just start writing and then sweat blood. After all the wordsmithing, editing, rewriting, and deleting, the writer gazes upon his or her finished product and declares “it is good.” Well, maybe yes or maybe no. The readers declare the verdict, not the writer.
I run my writing through several checkpoints before you see the finished product. The first stop is my Word Program’s Review process where I can hear the manuscript read aloud. The mechanical voice is heartless, where I would read my work out loud and miss bloopers. Part of my brain knows what I meant to write, and that’s what I may read instead of what I did write. “The Voice” finds punctuation errors such as missed periods or commas because I hear run-on or choppy sentences. A misspelling that missed spell check jumps out at me. I pick up on choppy flow and see where I should rearrange my copy. After making those changes, I run it through my Pro Writing App which shows more grammar or style problems. Now it should be perfect, right?
Enter my wonderful Greece Writers Critique Group. We’ve become trusted friends since we started in 2008 and our favorite contest is who can find fault in the first line. “Line one!” one of us announces with glee. Everyone laughs except the writer, who groans good-naturedly.
Spoiler alert. Critique groups are not everyone’s cup of tea, for a variety of reasons. Although not mandatory, they help me. When I implement 95% of the suggestions I receive, I end up with a much better copy. Humility and a thick skin can be good things.
We send a copy of what we want critiqued a few days before our meeting date, so members have time to go over the manuscript carefully. Grammar and punctuation errors are fairly easy to find (for someone else, not the writer). Digging deeper, we will note where the writer told and did not show what happens in a scene. Or someone will say that section is not clear, or “I’m confused.”
We point out weak spots, places where the writer committed common sins, like head hopping—when the narration is told through one character’s view and suddenly the writer describes something from the viewpoint of another character.
“I don’t feel it,” “I can’t see it happen that way,” tells a writer they did not create a sensual experience for the reader, using sight, sound, or smell in the narrative. Guys are especially good at finding how something would not work mechanically or logically.
Plot is key in fiction writing, and as characters morph into “real” people, they sometimes do something unexpected, and surprise the writer. “Eureka!” cries the writer, pleased at the new twist. But then, what must the writer plant several chapters before to make this new occurrence believable? Did I plant the gun the bad guy miraculously found ahead of time? If the writer fails to hide the hints, fellow writers hopefully will find your fatal flaw. I can’t tell you the number of times when I think my masterpiece is perfect and they won’t be able to find anything wrong. And then they lovingly find even more tweaks I need to make.
We have become friends who hold each other’s writing in high regard and give every submission the “gravitas” it deserves, even if it does not fall into our own genre.
I’ve improved my self-editing skills by editing others’ manuscripts. If I find bloopers more easily in their work, I will soon find my own more easily as well. Blooper hunting is an acquired skill. The Bible has it right again. It’s easier to find the spec in another’s eye than the plank in your own.
Not Just for Beginners
I will never become such a good writer that I do not benefit from my writing friends’ critiques. Writers have met in groups probably since the first hieroglyphs decorated cave walls. The Inklings, of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien fame, is perhaps one of the more well-known writer groups. If they benefited from each other’s advice, how much more so would I and my Greece Writer friends?
When I encountered Diana Pavlac Glyer’s book about the Inklings, Bandersnatch, C.S Lewis, J.R.R Tolkien and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings, I well, snatched it up.  It’s a fascinating read for writers who belong to, or are considering, a writer group.
Beyond our merry little band, I have access to three more critique groups and getting a critique requires giving one. Assessing art, and writing is art, is subjective, so all comments are welcome.
We cheer each other’s successes as only people who know the blood, sweat and tears that went into them can. We support each other, especially when it seems there is no publication acceptance in sight…yet.
 Bandersnatch, C.S Lewis, J.R.R Tolkien and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings, by Diana Pavlac Glyer ©2016 Black Squirrel Books, Kent State University Press