Should you have your writing peer reviewed/critiqued?
Please welcome my special guest, Jessica Dejong! Today, she's blogging about a very important, and potentially intimidating, topic that all authors must contend with: Putting our hard-earned words and stories on the examination table for others to dissect.
Without further delay, here is Jessica.
In short, the answer to this question is yes. But it depends on who is peer reviewing your writing; someone other than yourself and, preferably, not just your close friends and family.
You can study writing all you want, but you’ll never perfect your story all on your own. You’ve got to show it to someone else and let them tear it apart, constructively, and friends and family can't always do this, either. It's time to send your writing to someone else.
It’s scary, I know—downright petrifying. You’re afraid of what the critics will say, what they won’t say, what they might not understand. But that’s the point, and it’s not the only thing reviews can do for you. This post is about my recent experience with peer reviews on a website called Critique Circle. I hope you find it helpful!
Finding Tough-love Critics
There’s only so much we can do for our own stories. Having been immersed in them from the very beginning, it can be hard to separate ourselves from them. We can’t see all the mistakes, don’t notice all the confusing bits or the places where we overindulged by adding a bit too much description or by letting our characters ramble on for too long because we like them.
Up until recently, I depended on my family and friends to be my beta readers and critics. But, since they knew me and my insecurities, I was always afraid they were being too easy on me. I thought their ideas of me, as a person rather than as a writer, might affect the way they interpreted the story.
I’d already known, for quite a while, that I’d need to go way outside my comfort zone and send my writing to other people, preferably those who didn’t know me well. It was a terrifying reality, but with the book I’m currently writing (well, revising), I needed some in-depth commentary. I wanted it ripped apart like an editor for a publishing company might do. So, I turned to complete strangers. People who didn’t know me, my insecurities, who would have no qualms about tearing up my story. In other words, I went to the internet.
My First Time with Critique Circle
Like I mentioned above, I joined an online critiquing group called Critique Circle—a site I’d recommend to anyone. I’ve received so much great, specific advice.
I started out by giving a few critiques. Then, drying the sweat from my palms, I sent in the first chapter of my WIP (work-in-progress) novel.
It wasn’t a perfect chapter, but it was an important one. First chapters always are, since they need to introduce the main character(s), the plot, and the overarching conflict, to name a few things.
So, I waited for the queue my chapter was in to come up. It was five long days of nervous energy, all building up to that first day of critiquing. In that time, my insecurities went crazy. I was afraid I’d done it all wrong, that once people read it, they would no longer respect me as a writer. It wasn’t a fun thought, I’ll tell you that.
Then the day I'd been both dreading and anticipating came.
The Beauty of Critiques
As it turned out, my insecurities were unjustified (it seems they usually are, but here I am, still worrying). Within a few hours, I already had a critique for my first chapter. By the end of the week, I had eight of them.
Everyone was helpful, and although there were a few things repeated by the eight critics (to be expected, of course), much of what they were saying was unique to them. It can be a little confusing since you can’t be sure what’s personal preference and what doesn’t actually work (though the critics usually try to point out what might be just their preferences), but the reward is thoroughly worth it.
They gave me advice on pacing, characters, dialog, grammar, and sentence structure. They were nitpicky, and I loved it. Everything they pointed out made sense to me. I know I’m gushing, but it was a great experience. I learned things I could never have gleaned from books or blogs on the craft because it was personal. It was intensive and intimate. And yes, it could be a bit harsh at times, but that’s one of the best parts. If you want to share your writing with the world, you’ve got to have a thick hide. The people at Critique Circle (the ones I ran into, at least) were just nice enough to keep me from raising my fists and demanding a better critique (so to speak), but blunt enough to thicken my skin a little more.
Growing as a Writer
It’s incredible how much a person can grow as a writer, even in the span of a week. Not only have I learned about my own writing through receiving feedback, I’ve also learned from giving it (I find it’s a lot easier to find mistakes in another person’s writing than your own!). But knowing where other people make mistakes in their writing has shown me where I might be doing the same. I look at my own work with a more critical eye now when I'm revising, and even that has made a huge difference in my story.
I’ve become more aware of my weaknesses as a writer, as well as a few of the things I’m getting right. It’s a lot of work, writing and reading critiques, then revising your story to get rid of any weak writing, then applying your new insights into your future writing. But as writers, we know that story-writing was never meant to be easy, that it requires a lot of hard work and some amount of sacrifice, and in the end, it’s worth it. Having my writing critiqued has shaped my story into something tighter, deeper, and more alive, and I doubt I could have gotten it to this point on my own.
Support Among Fellow Writers
The point is, we don’t have to do this alone. We learn from each other, and critique circles/peer reviews are the most personal and intimate places to do so, in my experience. Just don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. We have to eventually. Find a group of writers, or start your own group. It doesn't have to be online. Many communities already have a group that meets regularly.
Sharing our work with other writers who struggle with the same issues is about the safest, most understanding way to begin. It's also a great place to find and to give support, which is something we all need.
Thanks for reading, and best of luck with all your writing endeavors!
(Ps. You can find me on Critique Circle as Writerjess)
Jessica DeJong is creative writer, nature-lover, and introverted bookworm.
To learn more about her writing, read her posts, or subscribe to her monthly email, please click on the link below.