I’m going to write about my graphic novel process soon, but before that I wanted to address a reader question.
To paraphrase, the reader asked:
Are you part of a critique group? Or do you have trusted readers who help you prepare your manuscripts? Or is your agent the sole person you turn to for that?
The short answer is: all of the above! Different approaches have worked for me at different times, and they all have their pluses and minuses.
In-person critique groups
I was part of an in-person critique group that met weekly for six years. (My involvement ended because I moved.)
–Being in a critique group that met so frequently put a lot of pressure on me to actually write, as I needed to have something to bring into the group.
–Reading my work out loud over and over again helped me get used to sharing something that felt so intensely personal with others.
–Being critiqued in person helped me learn to listen to and absorb feedback without becoming defensive. And I learned a lot by hearing from perspectives very different from my own.
–I learned to critique others in hopefully helpful ways.
–I was exposed to styles and genres of writing that I didn’t necessarily read.
–It was really fun to be connected with other people who loved writing.
–Big time commitment. After I moved, I just haven’t found myself in a place where I’ve felt like I can make that type of time commitment again.
–I found that this type of critiquing (reading the work out loud and then critiquing on the spot) worked way better for me for picture books than for longer works.
Online critique groups
I was also in an online-only critique group for six years, where we exchanged picture book manuscripts monthly. (My involvement ended because this group was specifically focused on picture books and lately I’ve been focusing on longer works, so I couldn’t keep up the monthly participation any longer.)
–Online format is convenient.
–Again, having a critique group commitment helped me stay motivated to create new work
–Writing is a quite isolating profession, so, again, it was fun being connected with other writers!
–It can be harder to communicate and get to know each other as well when things aren’t in-person.
Online critique partner match ups
I see references to these sometimes, and I even signed up for one once (I can’t remember what site I used). It seemed good at first. I was writing a kids’ fantasy novel at the time and was matched up with someone working in the same age group and genre. But, after exchanging a few messages, the other writer ghosted me. Maybe she didn’t like my writing (understandably—it was quite bad at the time)? Who knows! However, I have heard of some people having great luck with these, so might be worth checking out.
Paid professional critiques at writing conferences
I haven’t been to very many writing conferences, but I did go to the Oakland, CA SCBWI writing conference several years in a row. It was nice because it was fairly cheap and only a one day time commitment. A couple of times, I even paid to have one of the faculty critique a chapter of my work-in-progress. (One time I cried because they didn’t have anything complimentary to say…but that was a good lesson in toughening up!)
Since being published, I have been on the other side of this equation, critiquing submitted work at the MD/DE/WV and Mid-Atlantic SCBWI conferences. My advice to anyone who is paying for one of these would be to make sure that your manuscript is following basic industry guidelines first. For example, with picture book manuscripts it is the industry standard to submit the manuscript unaccompanied by artwork (unless you are an author/illustrator). If you’ve made sure to follow basic guidelines first, it’s more likely that the critique will focus specifically on improving your story.
Though I don’t have a regular monthly or weekly critique group anymore, I’m still in touch with some of the writers I met in those groups, plus a few others that I’ve met in other ways, and I’ll often reach out to one of these writers to trade critiques or see if they have time to give me feedback on a certain project.
Working directly with my agent
Usually I prefer to send my agent stuff that I’ve already workshopped with some other people first, but sometimes I’m confident enough in a project that she’s the first one who sees it. My agent is an editorial agent, so we often go through several revisions (even if I have shared it with critique partners before sending it to her) before something’s ready to be submitted to editors.
Working directly with an editor
I’m usually only working directly with an editor if they’ve already acquired my manuscript for publication. Occasionally, an editor who is somewhat interested in acquiring a manuscript might have some revision ideas and say that they would be willing to take a second look if I am willing to revise. (And I’ll almost always give this a try!)
Five strategies for when you are revising on your own
Finding someone to give you useful, constructive feedback just doesn’t always work out. It’s not easy to build a writing community, especially if you are really pressed for time and/or money. Conferences and writing retreats are expensive and time consuming. And it’s difficult to spend time making writing friends when you are barely squeezing in enough to time to actually write in the first place. Lots of people seem to succeed at building community through social media, but sometimes seeing so many authors interacting like best friends online can leave you feeling even more isolated.
And then there are other possible barriers to getting feedback, even when you have found a critique group or critique partners. For me, sometimes I write something that is just really different from what any of the writers I know are writing. (This happened to me when I started writing graphic novel scripts–I didn’t know anyone else writing them.) Or, I’ve asked for too many critiques without being asked to return the favor yet. Or I have a deadline and I can’t line up critiques with the timeline I need to work with. So, I’ve come up with some hacks to try to critique and revise my own work with a more unbiased eye, on my own.
1. Print it out and retype it. (Yes, even for a novel!) This can really help me become conscious of big problems and get the brainstorming going again.
2. Read it out loud. This helps a lot with improving the flow of the sentences and strengthening the dialogue.
3. Even if I’ve made an outline before writing, sometimes I take the draft and deconstruct it into a new outline. This can help highlight structural weaknesses.
4. Give it time. Even if I have a deadline, I try to work on the project, then squeeze in some work on a completely different project, then go back to work on it. Time away from the project really helps me return to it with fresh eyes .
5. Get re-inspired. Sometimes the difficult part about revision is that I no longer remember why I even liked this project in the first place and I just want to give up on it already! Taking some time to think about what initially drew me to the project can really help me get re-inspired to dig deeper and improve the manuscript, whether it’s by thinking about connected memories, listening to music, looking at art, getting outside, watching related movies, or reading related books. For some projects I make playlists or Pinterest boards that I fill with things that put me in the mood to work on it.
Whew! Hopefully there’s something helpful in there. Best of luck with your writing!