CRITIQUE WEEK Finale- Shelley Ann Jackson, Cynthia Levinson, Samantha Clark

         Battling blog design gremlins here. Bear with me:)---------------   Here we are in the final critique week interview. Welcome to three lovely and talented authors.                 Shelley Ann Jackson is an author, illustrator, and arts educator who recently relocated to Austin, Texas with her equally talented author/illustrator husband, Jeff Crosby. Shelley's illustrations have appeared in numerous children's books, magazines, and posters. Her next author/illustrator collaboration with Jeff, HARNESS HORSES, BUCKING BRONCOS & PIT PONIES (Tundra Books,) will be released October 2011. Check out Shelley's blog.                         Cynthia Levinson has twenty-five years of education experience fueling her love of children's literature. She is a prolific nonfiction author with countless articles appearing in children's publications including the COBBLESTONE group of magazines. Her short fiction has been featured by such publications as HIGHLIGHTS, SKIPPING STONES, and THE MAILBOX and has garnered her contest awards. Cynthia's first book, WE HAVE A JOB: THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN'S MARCH will be published by Peachtree in 2012. Check out Cynthia's blog activity.    
           Samantha Clark has enjoyed a long career as a journalist and editor and now, as co-founder and editor of Disc Dish, an online movie review site that  offers insider interviews, and in depth reviews of the latest DVD and Blu Ray releases, plus information about the latest disc technology available. Her true passion is as a middle-grade novelist. She is involved in the Austin SCBWI community and is actively seeking representation for two completed middle grade novels. Check out Samantha's blog.            
What is the secret to a successful critique group?     S.A.J.  I don’t know if it’s a secret, but it might not be the first thing that comes to mind. Yet, I think it’s one of the most essential elements of a successful critique group: an equal dedication to writing. All of the other differences can be overcome. If members aren’t on the same writing plane or haven’t had equal critique group experience, aren’t equally successful, don’t use similar writing styles or don’t work in the same genres, you’ll grow together, learn from one another, raise each other up and get over those hurdles. But if members aren’t all dedicated to the craft, this will show in their dedication to the group and the effort that they put into their critiques and their revisions. It’s mostly true that you get out of something what you put into it, but with critique groups, you also get out of it what your partners put in.          
C.L. (1) First, say something—anything—positive. Even if all you can muster is “nice font.” Then, be scathingly honest. If you wouldn’t want a publisher or, god forbid, a reader to know that you’re in the same critique group as the person who wrote this drivel, don’t let it get out of the critique group. (2) A mixture of writing levels can be useful. I can learn from everyone. (3) Have patience—but only a limited amount of patience—with learning about everyone else’s children, grandchildren, parents, spouses, pets, vacations, plumbing leaks, allergies... S.C. 1. Guidance for my writing. Getting feedback helps me know if I'm on the right track with my story, if what I intend is coming across. Writing is so solitary. Only the writer truly knows all the ins and outs of the story and the full back stories of the characters. You don't want to reveal too much or the reader will be bored, but you also can't reveal too little or the reader will be confused. Critique group partners can let you know if you're on the right track. 2. Ideas. Sometimes, being so close to a story blocks me from seeing some things that could provide more drama or laughs or whatever is needed. My critique group partners have given me ideas. Some I've used and some have helped me step up to an even better idea. 3. Support. I'll say it again, because this is important: Writing is solitary. Unless you're writing with a partner, you're the sole creator of an entire world. You're responsible for the ideas, research, writing, editing. And then when you're done, you're responsible for the kick-butt synopsis, query letter, submissions, rejections. And for most of us, this is all done in the spare seconds we stash away between our jobs, laundry, kids, spouses, grocery shopping, bills, etc. Critique group members all go through the same thing, and as such, we can all help each other, whether it's encouragement, commiserations, or whatever's needed.
 
How has being part of a critique group helped your writing?
S.A.J.  Being part of a crit group has helped me to get work done; nothing motivates like a deadline! And self-imposed deadlines are nothing compared to the thought of submitting a poor manuscript to a group of your peers! It’s not only embarrassing, but it’s a wasted opportunity. Being part of a group has also helped me to accept the things that need to be changed in my manuscripts. I often see things that, deep down, I know aren’t working, but for one reason or another, I like them and so I keep them. But when others point them out, I know that they are real problems and need to be revised or cut. And finally, being part of a crit group has helped me to see new things in my manuscripts. Sometimes, you just can’t see the forest for the trees and you need someone else (or several people at once) to yell, “Forest!!!”       
C.L.  The people who have helped my writing the most (like you, Donna) are those who (1) write well themselves, (2) explain how they do it, and (3) take a pencil to my ms and show me exactly how I can do it. Vague directions like “try heightening the language here” or “show don’t tell” aren’t nearly so helpful as “how about ‘gash’ instead of ‘cut.’” S.C.    BOOZE! No, just kidding. Although I would say that chocolate would be welcome at any meeting. No, the key to a successful critique group is honesty and respect. We all have to be honest with each other. No writer will get better if their critiquers tell them "This is brilliant!" when they don't really think so. We go to critique groups to get advice on how we can make our writing better. If you're going to a critique group to hear "This is brilliant!" stay home. Show your writing to your family instead. Critique groups are for growth, and we only grow if we know what's working and what's not. And respect. As I mentioned, writing is not easy. It's not about putting words on a page — it's about putting the right words in the right order to illicit the best emotional response and entertain and inform. It's about digging deep into our soul and translating what we see. And when we do that, to have a critique partner say "This sucks!" or "I hate this!" is crushing. The most important thing to remember as a critiquer is that writing is subjective. Sure, there are some aspects of a story — developed, believable characters; realistic dialog; character arc; plotting — that we can all critique on, but story-wise, we might not like something that someone else loves. Millions of people love the Harry Potter books and others find them boring. Subjective. So who are we to say something "sucks"? We have to respect our fellow writers.          
Where does your critique group meet? Why did you choose that environment?
S.A.J.  I’ve had a few groups and all, except my online group, have met in coffee shops. They are nice, casual places. They aren’t so quiet that you feel you’re disturbing others by talking, and not so loud that you can’t hear your group members speak. Plus, you can write off coffee and a piece of cheesecake!      
C.L.  We’re peripatetic. For years, we met at Barnes and Noble because one of our group members drove in from Kingsland, and it was convenient for her. She needed to drop out, so we moved to Central Market, where we meet upstairs when we’re not meeting around the dining table at a member’s house.    
S.C.   We meet at an office conference room after hours, which is nice because it's quiet and there aren't any distractions. But I've got other friends who meet at someone's home and others who meet over Skype from their individual homes. And my former critique group, before I moved, met at a Barnes & Noble. The important thing is that it's convenient for everyone and it's a place where you can talk freely without having to stay quiet (a library's maybe not a good place) and it doesn't have distractions.    
 
What are the biggest challenges of critiquing someone else’s manuscript?
S.A.J.  I think the hardest thing for me is telling someone when part of their manuscript is wonderfully, beautifully written, but doesn’t further their story. I know that if I love that phrase or sentence or section, they probably do, too, and are going to have a hard time cutting it. In my own work, I often get attached to those bits and they are the hardest things for me to cut. I count on the group to tell me when they aren’t working, and I know they count on me to do the same.        
C.L.   Our group tries to meet weekly and read each others’ mss aloud. As a result, we limit what we bring to 5 pages. It’s hard to read a novel 5 pages at a time, to capture the arc, the character development, the sub-plots. I like the discipline of weekly deadlines but I’d also like to grasp larger chunks of the ms at a time.        
S.C.  I'd say the biggest challenge is remembering that it's not our story. When we read something and get ideas, we can start to feel ownership over it and expect the writer to do everything we say, but it's not our story. Plus, we're only reading a small section of the story. So it's important to just pass along whatever advice we can — in a supportive, non-judgmental way — then leave the rest to the writer.    
What are the biggest challenges of having your own manuscript critiqued?
S.A.J.  Listening. Just really, really listening. Not getting defensive or trying to explain, but just absorbing and understanding what the problems are.      
C.L.  Keeping my mouth closed and not defending why I can’t change a word or “explaining” that “that will become clear later.” Cynthia, repeat to yourself: if it’s not clear now, it doesn’t matter if it’s going to become clear later; later is too late.   S.C.   Not getting offended. Critiquers usually don't mean to offend, but some are less objective than others (remember the grandma?), and like I mentioned before, writing is subjective. Critique partners will tell you that they don't get your work, that they don't like it, that it's not their thing. Critiquers have told me before that they would have put my book down if it wasn't for the fact that they had to get through it for our critique session. Sure, part of me wanted to say, "Hey, no one had a gun to your head. You could have stopped. I don't care." But I didn't. I just nodded and smiled and listened to what they had to say. The other challenge is sticking to your story. It's very important — and to me, this is one of the most important things a writer has to consider — that the writer knows his or her story and does only what's best for that story. At a critique group, listen to what others have to say, digest it and then only use what works for the betterment of the story. This is an extreme example, but if you're writing a family drama and a critique group member suggests you add a bit of excitement with an alien invasion ... DON'T DO IT! That will completely change your story, and you have to remember it's YOUR story.          
How do you handle situations when you, as the author, disagree with someone’s feedback on your manuscript?
S.A.J.  Well, you’re of course not obligated to take every suggestion that you’re given. But if you want to improve your writing, you need to at least figure out why they’ve given this feedback. Do they hate you? Are they completely insane? Or was there something there that took them out of the story? If it was your agent or editor who made the same comment would you still disagree? Or would you offer a compromise? I think if you look at it from all angles, you’ll usually find a creative solution that satisfies both the feedback and you. And you’ll be stoked when you find it.      
C.L.  Sometimes I defend or explain! Other times, I nod and utter a lot of “mmmms.”           
 S.C. I try to say very little when my work is being critiqued. If I don't agree with a note, I just nod and let them move on. I also try not to judge notes until later. I jot them down in my notebook, let them simmer in my brain for a few days, and then decide whether they make the work better or not.    
How do you handle critiquing a manuscript you're not comfortable with? For example, if you don't care for horror, or paranormal, or rhyming picture books.
S.A.J.  If you aren’t into the story being presented, you just have to look at the big picture. You can look for a strong story arc, consistency of character and clarity in the writing, no matter what the subject matter is. Or you can feign the stomach flu.       
C.L.   One member of our group has written for the Christian market. I don’t know what to do with religion-infused material or, especially, with plot resolutions that depend on God. All I can do is say so.        
S.C.  Can you really critique a manuscript when you don't like the story? Yes, but with caution. Like I said, writing is subjective. You can still critique on the standards for good dialog, characters and story, but it's a good idea to preface your critique with the fact that horror isn't your thing. If you're into the genre you're critiquing, I think you are in a unique position to be an even better critiquer, because you know what works and what doesn't. If you're critiquing a ghost story and the character flies, you can say, whether that's normal in the ghost genre or a little off the wall. Note, however, that off the wall can be good. Until Twilight, vampires burned up in sunlight. Stephenie Meyer made that her own by giving her characters skin that sparkled. Sun was still bad, but for a different reason. Off the wall for the genre, but it still worked.    
What advice would you give to a writer joining a critique group for the first time?
S.A.J.  Be brave! You can’t improve your writing without letting people read it. And, on the flip side, don’t be afraid to tell your partners what you really feel (in a nice way)! You know more than you probably think you do. Point out what is strong in your partners’ manuscripts, as much or more than you point out what isn’t working. But also, keep reading about writing and most especially, reading published children’s books and analyzing them.     
C.L.  Listen. Nod. Ask.   S.C.  Have an open mind, listen without commenting, don't take offense if someone isn't as respectful as they should be (it happens), and most of all, be confident.       "...here's an anecdote from the creators of Toy Story. It goes with the "challenge of having your own manuscript critiqued" question. When John Lasseter and his team were making the first Toy Story, they did an early screening with executives at Walt Disney Studios, who were providing financing. At the screening, the execs laughed and had a good time, but when they came out, they each gave notes of things they thought would help make Toy Story even better. They went away and Lasseter and his team, thinking they had to please the studio big wigs, did every single change that was suggested. A few weeks later, they had another screening, but this time, the Disney execs barely cracked a smile. When they finished watching the movie, they said to Lasseter that he and his team obviously had no idea about moviemaking, and they wanted Pixar to move to Los Angeles where the Disney execs could keep a closer eye on their investment. Lasseter pleaded for a second chance. "Give me two weeks," he said. When the Disney execs left, he gathered his team and they went back to the cut of the film they had first shown the Disney folks and went through all the original notes one at time. This time, Lasseter and his team only did the ones that they felt helped the story.Two weeks later, the Disney bigwigs watched the newest cut of the film. They left the screening in tears from laughing so hard. Pixar didn't have to move to Los Angeles, and, well, you know what happened to Toy Story. So, the moral is: Know your story, love you story, protect your story, only follow up on notes that will help your story. Because it is YOUR story, and you're the only one who can make it great.
 
-- 

CRITIQUE WEEK Part Two- Emily Kristin Anderson & Lindsey Lane

Emily Kristin Anderson
Lindsey Lane

Continuing the trilogy of interviews with authors who participate in critique groups, I give you…

Emily Kristin Anderson, a young adult novelist and poet, is a resident of Austin, Texas, a long way from her native Maine. Her poetry has been published in national literary journals and she is currently querying her first completed YA novels. Most recently, she co-created the popular Dear Teen Me website, featuring letters from authors to their teen selves.

Lindsey Lane’s journey toward authorship followed a path that included a degree in theatre arts and careers as a journalist and award-winning playwright. Her picture book, SNUGGLE MOUNTAIN (Clarion, 2003) was listed among “Best Children’s Books of 2004” by Bank Street College of Education. Today, she continues to pen charming books for children while raising her daughter, a house full of pets, and her blog, The Meandering Lane.


What’s the secret to a successful critique group?

E.K.A. 
I think the key is respect.  You’ve got to respect what your crit partners are writing – respect their style and their vision – in order to take it apart and help them put it back together.  If you don’t respect the work someone is doing, someone else would probably be more helpful as a critique partner.

L.L.  My first thought is: kindness, respect and honesty. Each of those is essential to a successful critique group. Except, well, touting the values of a critique group sounds a bit bland. Really, I think the secret to a successful critique group is being just a little bit in awe of the other writers. Like every time you go, you pinch yourself and say, “I can’t believe I get to be here.” When it comes time to put your work out in the world, it has to be the best it can possible be so if I’m with writers I am in awe of, I want to bring my A game. Not just in my writing. I bring it to the reading of their work. I think of my critique group as an assembly of dream editors: Candlewick, Knopf, Simon & Schuster. Does this mean I can’t show my dream editors first drafts and rough stuff? Of course I can. I dare myself with them first.

How has being part of a critique group helped your writing?


E.K.A.  My writing is so much stronger for my critique group.  They have ideas that I wouldn’t have come up with, they are a wealth of knowledge in areas I’m not so keen on.  I mean, if you can’t ask your critique group how long it takes for someone to bleed out from a stab wound, well who CAN you ask?

L.L.  I think the biggest way critique groups have helped my writing is they help me deepen my commitment to a story. Recently, I brought in a first draft of a short story and I thought it might be a little over the top, a little schmaltzy. Well the ending was schmaltzy but the essential story was on point. My group helped me find the nugget of the story and bring if forward so it shined and wasn’t covered up by a schmaltzy ending.

Where does your critique group meet? Why did you choose that environment?

E.K.A. We meet at a café/bar in central Austin.  I don’t know how it became our place, but it’s a fabulous atmosphere.  Perfect combination of peace and noise.  Well, mostly noise.  Between the night nurses having drinks at 9am and the occasional folks outside in troll costumes, it seems like a good place to write fiction.

L.L.  We are early birds. We meet around one of our dining room tables in the mornings. Coffee and tea are our substance of choice with a few nibbles on the side. One of us recently sold a manuscript. No champagne. We splurged on pie.

What are the biggest challenges of critiquing someone else’s manuscript?

E.K.A.  I think finding the fine line between honest in a constructive way and honest in a destructive way can be tough.  Which isn’t to say I haven’t threatened a CP with stabbing by fork if she didn’t cut her cliffhanger ending.  But, you know, it’s about guaging what your crit partner needs vs. telling it like it is.

L.L.  Well of course, the biggest challenge would be not loving someone’s manuscript and not being able to comment on it because you just don’t like it or get it. That’s never happened to me. Even if I feel a little distant from a manuscript, I can still look at it as a craftsperson. I can still spot when the author is doing too much telling or a character’s voice goes a little too authorial. I can still be helpful. Challenges are opportunities. The saying’s been around for a while because it’s true.

What are the biggest challenges of having your own manuscript critiqued?

E.K.A.  Dude.  I love having my MS critiqued.  It makes revision so much easier to attack.  Although once in a blue moon you get a critique that makes you wonder if the critiquer really got what you were going for, if maybe they just didn’t like your style.  It’s finiding the nuggets to take from critiques like these that can be a little hard.

L.L.  Well I think a big challenge is when your critique group looks at your ms. for the fifth time and tells you to put it in a drawer and move on. That is very hard. That’s happened to me in another group. They were right but it was hard to hear. I recently looked at that manuscript and I realized I am a different writer now. I have different tools in my tool box. Sometimes when you work on the same manuscript over and over again, you can’t grow as a writer. You have to put it away and work on something else because a new manuscript will ask different skills of you. You can always go back. When you do, you will be a different writer and who knows? You may have just the right tools to bring that story to life now. Or the wisdom to know that you won’t.

How do you handle situations when you, as the author, disagree with someone’s feedback on your manuscript?

E.K.A. I think it’s important to always thank someone who’s read your manuscript and given feedback.  So if you can’t say anything else, say thank you!  And like I said above, even when a critique doesn’t quite see your vision, there are definitely things you can take from it if you look hard enough.

L.L.  Hmmm, I’m a pretty compliant sort. If someone says a character sounds too young or they were confused by a POV shift, I go take a look.  Always. Part of how a critique group functions for me is that their comments help me deepen my commitment to the manuscript. You really have to love a story to stick with it through revision, submission, more revision, publication and then promotion. So I had better be working on a story that I love and believe in. Their comments test my mettle as well as the story’s mettle.

How do you handle critiquing a manuscript you’re not comfortable with? For example, if you don’t care for horror, or paranormal, or rhyming picture books.

E.K.A. Within my crit group, there are definitely certain manuscripts I wouldn’t take on.  If one of my CPs wrote, say, a middle grade sci fi comedy, I might not be the best person to look at it.  I’d be completely useless with an epic fantasy complete with its own dictionary.  So I think it’s okay to say that.  You’re not going to be very useful if you can’t get behind the story.

L.L. I think critiquing genres I don’t write gives me an opportunity to be more objective on craft issues (point of view, setting) and story logic. Because I’m not swept up by the genre and loving the author’s dystopian world, for instance, I can be more objective and thoughtful about what’s working on the page. I remember once I was in a group where a member had submitted a rhyming manuscript about space. What I brought to the table was a naiveté about the subject matter so that I could honestly say what didn’t make sense or what wasn’t clear. I think it’s important to understand the world that the manuscript is trying to create but you don’t have to be an expert in that genre to bring value to the critique table.

Would you like to share a funny, sweet, or unusual anecdote about a critique group situation?

E.K.A.  We write at a place called, um THE PLACE.  Because we have actually been CRASHED after we continually posted our meeting place on Twitter.  So, you know, I guess we’re famous or something.  Possibly awesome.

L.L.   One of my critiquers writes in the margins of my manuscripts: ‘I’m holding my breath.’ or ‘Yuck!’ Or ‘Swoon.’ She notes her emotional response to the material. At first, I didn’t understand the comments. You know, I thought they had to be more cerebral and cognitive. But now I love to see if the emotional effect I want is coming through.

What advice would you give to a writer joining a critique group for the first time?

E.K.A.  
Be patient.  Figure out how it works before throwing your manuscript at everyone.  Read the published works of other members (if there are published members) and read the blogs/Twitters/Facebooks of unpublished members.  Get to know them as people AND as writers.  Then have fun!

L.L.  You will become a better writer by becoming a better critiquer. So often we think that we become better writers by all the feedback we receive on our manuscripts. Not so. In fact, sometimes I get flooded by a lot of feedback and it takes me some time to sift and mull about what to do next. What I notice is that by paying attention to craft and story in other people’s manuscripts, I am a lot sharper when I am crafting my own stories. When I see how one of my fellow critiquers handles a time shift in her ms., for instance, I tend to be braver in my own pages. 

Next up, the final critique group interviews with authors Samantha Clark, and Cynthia Levinson, and author/illustrator Shelley Ann Jackson.

Critique Group Peek Part One-P.J. Hoover and Meredith Davis

I’ve posted previously about how vital critique groups can be. A trustworthy critiquer is at once cheerleader, first-reader, editor, and therapist. But, don’t take my word for it. The next three blog posts feature the critique group expertise of seven prolific writers. If  you’ve ever considered joining a group, you’ll want to read what these wonderfully talented writers have to say about the ups and downs of collaborative feedback.

Meet our first two featured authors…

P.J. Hoover
Meredith Davis

Author P. J. Hoover first fell in love with Greek mythology in sixth grade thanks to the book Mythology by Edith Hamilton. After a fifteen year bout as an electrical engineer designing computer chips for a living, P. J. decided to take her own stab at mythology and started writing books for kids and teens. P. J. is also a member of Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels When not writing, P. J. spends time with her husband and two kids and enjoys practicing Kung Fu, solving Rubik’s cubes, and watching Star Trek.

 

Her first novel for teens, Solstice, takes place in a Global Warming future and explores the parallel world of mythology beside our own. Her middle grade fantasy novels, The Emerald Tablet, The Navel of the World, and The Necropolis, chronicle the adventures of a boy who discovers he’s part of two feuding worlds hidden beneath the sea.

Meredith Davis trades pictures books and middle grades with her critique partners. She recently earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College, and is busy putting the finishing touches on her most recent middle grade. She is happiest when immersed in a story, whether it’s someone else’s or her own, figment of imagination or backyard foible. She chronicles some of her life’s stories at www.storiesinthestreet.com.

What’s the secret to a successful critique group? 

 P.J.H. For me, the secret to a successful group is finding people of comparable level who are willing to put in a comparable amount of work while critiquing. In addition, let’s face it. Personalities matter. Sour grapes and jealousy and bitchiness are not for the win and don’t belong in your group.
M.D.  Being able to listen without talking back. If everyone spends their time defending why they wrote what they wrote, the time isn’t very productive. Take everything in, agree or disagree in your head, ask for clarification, then take it home and let it simmer. Another advantage of being in a critique group is having multiple opinions regarding your story. You can see if there is consensus with an edit, or dissent. If everyone agrees that they had an issue with a particular thing, you can be more sure that there is, indeed, a problem.
How has being part of a critique group helped your writing?
P.J.H. From a craft standpoint, it’s made me realize areas where I really need to focus. One critique member may excel at setting whereas another may really hone in on how characters are feeling. Each person brings something new to the table, and all these aspects feed into a great story and make us grow as writers.
M.D.  It makes it tighter, I edit more carefully when others are reading my work. It also pushes me to allow my work to morph and change. if I don’t have feedback, I often can’t see beyond what I’ve already written. Bringing in other points of view helps me expand my own universe.
Where does your critique group meet? Why did you choose that environment?
P.J.H. Online! Well, let me rephrase. Most of my critiquing is done online with people across the country I’ve found through the Internet. In addition, I also have a writing group (which is not a critique group). The writing group encourages each other to write, commiserates, celebrates, and talks book and everything that goes along with them.
M.D.  I currently meet online with my groups. They are all need-based, meaning we have an understanding that we’ll look at each other’s work wen we need to have something looked at.  There is great freedom in this arrangement. We all have busy lives and different times when we’re productive, or working on other aspects of our careers. It also saves time to not drive to meet physically, and gives freedom to look at work over a period of several days, instead of carving a specific time out of our calendars. None of us need prompting to write, I think our challenge is finding the time to write in busy schedules. When we find it, we take it, and then we benefit from everyone’s edits.
What are the biggest challenges of critiquing someone else’s manuscript?
P.J.H. Making sure to include enough positive comments. So much of the time, when critiquing, the default is to mark everything that needs to be changed. But it’s so important to realize that marking the positive is equally important. Receiving those encouraging remarks is what, many times, keeps writers on the forward path and inspired. And I just want to note: there is always something positive to be found in any piece.
M.D.  It’s hard to mess with someone else’s baby and not offend. I remind my self to be sure and note what I love, and not just what needs fixing. There is always something to love, even in the most first drafty of drafts, or in the most beginning writers. Sometimes I’ll have a beginning writer ask me to read their story. I remind myself of those who read my work when I was first starting out, and encouraged me because they saw some sort of spark. I look for the spark.
What are the biggest challenges of having your own manuscript critiqued?
P.J.H. Accepting feedback. This may seem obvious, but a natural reaction when receiving a critique is to move into denial mode. To pretend that none of the points are valid and perhaps the critiquer misunderstood the manuscript. More realistically, we need to read the critique, step away from it for a period of time, and then come back to it when we can accept the feedback rationally.
M.D.  For me, the challenge is to hold back and not immediately start changing everything that’s suggested. I can change my manuscript a million ways. To be quiet and decide what resonates and what does not, that can be difficult.
How do you handle situations when you, as the author, disagree with someone’s feedback on your manuscript?
 P.J.H. One thing that makes it easy when a critique is online is that there is normally time to think before reacting. If I disagree with feedback, I may discuss it with another critique partner, but I don’t find the need to try to defend my position to the person who critiqued the work. It is okay to accept the feedback, say thank you, and choose not to use it!
M.D.  First, I make sure I’m understanding them correctly. Then I hold my tongue, and when I get home, and I consider it again if it still doesn’t seem right, I toss it. Sometimes, I might try their idea, just to see. I may not agree with it right away, but when I work with it, I may come up with an entirely new way to take the story that was sparked by the edit I didn’t agree with. It’s important to leave your ego behind, whether you’re receiving an edit or giving it. If a writer doesn’t agree with an edit you’re suggesting, after they’ve given it time to simmer, you’ve got to let it go. It’s their story, and they have reasons for writing it the way they are. Even if they can’t articulate it. As a writer, you’ve got to disentangle yourself from your ego and distance yourself from your story to be able to consider the edits.
How do you handle critiquing a manuscript you’re not comfortable with? For example, if you don’t care for horror, or paranormal, or rhyming picture books.
 P.J.H. In general, I am selective about what I critique. I accept that I am not the best person to critique rhyming picture books, and I won’t pretend to be. But some aspects of the craft of writing extend across many genres, and with these, I believe I can offer help.
If something reached far outside my comfort zone, I would most likely politely send a note that I was not able to give an objective critique on the piece and move on.
M.D.  First, I disclose that I’m not comfortable with whatever it is, as a disclaimer. The writer needs to know this. Then I critique as best I can. I look at character and setting and story arc. I use what I do know to give my honest feedback. Your edits might be even more valuable if you aren’t the “core” audience, because you have a different perspective or can distance yourself in a unique way.
Would you like to share a funny, sweet, or unusual anecdote about a critique group situation?
P.J.H. I have no particular story, but I do want to say that not only do I respect my fellow critiquers for their writing prowess, I also consider them friends and people I can share the journey of my writing with.
M.D.   At one time, I was part of a critique group where several of us had children. We decided we’d meet at one of our houses, and we’d just bring our kids with us and let them play while we critiqued. It wasn’t ideal, there were distractions, but the fact that we persevered together in the midst of chaos meant we got things done. We progressed. Taking steps forward, no matter how small. I also remember a funny story one time where one of our members had done an alphabet book and forgotten one of the letters of the alphabet. Oh, we laughed together over that one.
What advice would you give to a writer joining a critique group for the first time?
P.J.H. If you aren’t feeling the critique group love—if you feel like there are bad group dynamics—either address the problem in a non-confrontational manner or politely excuse yourself from the group. Different people belong in different groups, and just because one group doesn’t work doesn’t mean all is lost for critique groups. All it means is that you should try elsewhere.
M.D.  Find the ways you will trust your group. There has to be trust if you’re going to continue together. You’ve got to trust that you will get honest feedback, and that it will be helpful. That the members are capable of giving good feedback. The only way to do this is with time. It may take several tries to find the right group. It may take several meetings for that “right” group to really connect. To find things to laugh about. To see how others take edits and watch their stories progress. The writers life is such a journey, and finding good traveling companions is worth the effort it might take to find them.

Check back for Part Two with Emily Kristin Anderson and Lindsey Lane