My name is Sheryl Hoyt and I was recently featured in the December 10th issue of Time Magazine in the article “The 99¢ Best Seller” by Andrew Rice. It was an amazing adventure that I was very happy to share with my good friend and critique partner, Deborah Schneider, who is also featured in the article. We’ve been together for over 20 years and I can’t think of anyone I would rather be on this journey with.
If you had asked me twenty years ago, when I first went looking for a critique group if this would end up being one of the most important decisions of my writing career, I would have laughed and then maybe cried. Criticism of your work is not a fun thing to contemplate, but living in a bubble isn’t going to help you master your craft either. You must find someone— other than your mom or significant other— to read your work and make honest, helpful comments.
My story goes like this. Once upon a time, I joined a writer’s group who met monthly to discuss the craft, and the speaker that night talked about finding a critique group and encouraged the 20 or so attendees to form a few amongst ourselves. I can’t remember if it was Deb (Deborah Schneider aka Sibelle Stone) or me who raised their hand first and said, ‘I would like to join a group, but I live in North Bend’. The other one of us said, ‘I live there too’, and it was the beginning of a great friendship. Of course, we didn’t know it at the time. Two more people asked if they could join us, and back then we figured, sure the more the merrier, but whoever joined us, would have to meet on our terms because of how far away we lived from the city. They agreed and the group decided on terms, like how many chapters we’d exchange, how often we’d meet and where to meet.
Note: This was 20 years ago, so there are many online options available now. It’s probably what I would do if I was seeking a critique partner today. But whether you are cyber critiquing or in person, this is all still relevant.
Fast forward: feelings are hurt, people are no-shows, the group disintegrates and it’s just Deb and I left. We probably repeated this cycle another three or four times, adding and then losing new writers. There were various reasons and some lessons learned. We’re very lucky to have stuck together all these years and have a great working relationship. Looking back I can see some things we could have done to get there sooner.
Two people are enough for a critique group: For some reason we had it in our heads that a group was more than two. But why try to fix it if it ain’t broken? What we found was that we had the same goals and wrote at about the pace. We both simply needed someone who liked our writing to read our chapters and honestly comment on what was working and what wasn’t. To point out the really good stuff, so we’d do more of that, and also point out where we had some bad habits we needed to clean up. For instance, I love the word THAT, and Deb hates introspection. She used a red pen on my THATs and I marked up her manuscript with ‘what is he/she feeling?’ notes. We are both more aware now and our writing improves with each book.
Don’t try to critique a genre that you don’t like to read: This was one of the earliest mistakes we made when forming a group. We had a guy who may have been a great writer, but it wouldn’t have been a book that I would ever have picked up to read. So being forced to read his chapters and comment was like getting a root canal without Novocain.
Make sure everyone is giving and receiving: We had one gal who is now a multi-published author selling tons of books, who wrote like a demon. What I mean is she could pound out a novel in the time it took me and Deb to write a chapter. We simply couldn’t keep up with her requests to read and we basically become her editors. On the flip side, she was unwilling say anything bad about our books, not understanding we did actually want to know her opinion. Another gal we worked with just showed up to talk about recipes and scrapbooking. I’m not sure if she ever even wrote a book?
All critique should be honest and constructive: Notice I’ve bolded constructive. We had one critique member who would simply tell you all the stuff she didn’t like about your writing. Which is fine, please be honest. If I wanted someone to love on my book, I would have given it to my mom! But we are all writers here, so please tell me what you would have done differently or at least tell me why you don’t like it. That is what you showed up for in the end.
Don’t take any of it personally: This is the #1 most important piece of advice you should take away from this blog. Just take a deep breath, and look at the comments you’ll receive objectively, as if you didn’t write those chapters. As if you’re just there doing this as a favor for a friend. You know, like you see on TV when the guy walks into the therapist’s office and says, ‘I have this friend and he’s got this problem...’ And guess what, if you don’t agree with the critique, you can ignore it. But do pause, think about it, maybe come back to it later and look at it from a new perspective. If you have picked the right critique partner/group, you will see the merit of any comments they have, or at least be aware of why you disagree. You may even decide to tweak other parts of your work in order to change their mind. It should all be useful to you and your craft.
The critique process also prepares you for the real world. You’ll always have people who don’t like your writing, it’s inevitable. Every bestselling author I’ve ever heard speak tells the same story about letters from fans and fanatics. One file folder for ‘likes’ and one for ‘not so much’.
So lift up your chin and go out into the world and seek criticism! It will make you a better writer, and a stronger person.
Bio: Sheryl Hoyt was born and lives in the Seattle, WA area. She resides in the beautiful Cascade foothills with her high school sweetheart and their cats. A business professional by day, Sheryl has been writing novels in her free time for over 20 years. A lover of all things historical, she enjoys research and travel in order to expand her knowledge and add authenticity to her stories.
Links to my stuff
Dangerous Heart available on Amazon
Heaven Made available on Amazon
The Scoundrel and the Saint available on Amazon
Dangerous Heart on BN.com
Posted March 22, 2012
4 Stars: Very interesting story.. Could not put it down!
The Scoundrel and the Saint on BN.com
Posted May 11, 2012
5 Stars: Very romantic
Loved it! Loved it! Really feel like i knew the characters. Excellent writing! I want me a Brand! Must buy!
Great characters and interesting topics May 27, 2012
By Erin W.
4 Stars: I really enjoyed how this book is not just your typical historical romance. The characters have problems and issues that are just as relevant today. I enjoyed going along on their adventures.