I’m preparing a manuscript to bring to my critique group. As I make the last few edits, I’m thinking:
This is genius—look how clever I am!
Oh no. I thought I fixed that.
Wait—did I just switch points-of-view? I don’t have time to fix this! Maybe I can bring something else. (Commence furious opening of old Word documents.)
In the end, I clutch my little manuscript and head to the meeting. Is it hilarious? Is it genius? Is it lame and contrived?
It’s like heading out to a party without knowing exactly what you’re wearing. Is it a knock-out dress? Is it an ill-fitting leotard? Is it on backward?
(Enter: Critique Group)
I need that mirror that a fabulous critique group provides. I need the heightened scrutiny I provide myself when reading aloud to an audience. I need to hear the laughs in the right places or the silence at what I thought was a joke. (Cue: crickets.)
It’s nerve-wracking to show up in who-knows-what. But I trust my critique group to tell me what I’m wearing—give it to me straight—without being so discouraging that I want to give up getting dressed altogether.
Truthful. But not humiliating.
OK, it’s my turn to read. If only I had a pocket mirror, the back of a spoon, anything to give me an idea of how big a fool I’m about to make of myself. But there’s not. There’s only one way forward. I have to read it. Aloud. Now.
So, I do.
In our group we start critiques with “what we like.” My fellow writers are experts at pointing out what’s working, even when that’s not much:
“I really like the detail in those socks.”
“And they nearly match.”
“I felt like they were on the right feet, too.”
I’m writing this down. Sensing a trend.
Then we move on to “questions” for the writer:
“Would you consider adding more to the outfit?”
“Does this outfit start in the right place?”
“I’m just wondering, what do those socks really want?”
And it’s clear. If my manuscript were an outfit—it is nothing but socks. I have showed up to the party in—socks.
But then there’s the comment that makes all the difference:
“You know, I like those stripes. I haven’t seen stripes quite like that before. I’d love to see more of that.”
Aha! On the drive home, I think more about those stripes and how I could re-work this piece with more of ‘em.
And I’ll show up next time in stripy socks and…my head stuck in the sleeve of a dress.
Okay, who’d like to read next?
Megan Maynor always shows up fully dressed in the literal sense. (You’re welcome, Critique Group.) She recently won her second Shabo Award from The Loft for her picture book manuscripts. Currently, she is an unknowable number of revisions away from completing her first middle grade novel. (Buckle up, Critique Group.)