Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How Soon Do You Start Critiques?

I've been workshopping a new novel, one that has less than 20,000 words so far. I haven't let so many people see my words so early before. I always thought that I needed to get a story into decent shape before people could have something solid to critique. However, now I realize that showing an early draft to critique partners can help you create that shape.

I sent my first two chapters for critique last December, and I asked the group to focus on character, not plot. I had an idea of how the plot would reveal itself, but at I wanted to know if my characters were compelling. And my workshop told me who they liked and who they didn't. What they were curious to know about each character's background and what details they didn't need to get weighed down in.

At the end of the critique, the group speculated about where the story was going and what could happen next. A few folks picked out the plot path I was heading on, but what was more interesting to me was hearing new possibilities of what could happen to these characters that I'd never dreamed of. They gave me some potential directions to investigate.

I'd been hesitant to toss pages out for critique so early before, but now I'm going to get early stuff out there sooner. And in my notes I submitted with my pages, I asked the group to focus on a certain aspect (character) that I needed the most help with, and the group kindly obliged.

Once you have a full first draft, it might be harder to change direction and press that delete key so often. It has been for me at times. But now that I'm sharing these early pages, I feel like making changes won't be as gut-wrenching because I'm not tossing away so much time and effort.

What have your experiences been with getting critiques at various stages in your drafting process?


  1. The best thing I've done for my writing is to join a crit group and pay attention. Especially when I first started, it helped to read experienced reviewers commenting on the 'best' submissions.

  2. When I was in a critique group I shared early pages. Right now I am in between groups and am mostly trading full mss w/people. I think it's never too soon to show someone your work, it just depends on what you are looking for.

  3. Kelly, great point that you can take into account who's critiquing your piece. In each group there are always certain writers who I especially adore and pay extra attention to their feedback.

    Paul, glad to know that you've had good experiences with sharing early pages. And being specific on what you're looking for does help. If I know the plot is a mess, I won't cringe over comments that say "plot needs work."

  4. I always wait until I'm done.

    I write the first draft of everything for myself. Granted, I keep an audience in mind, but knowing that things will change several times during the process, I write the story I want to write to satisfy that side of me.

    Then, when something is done, I toss it out to trusted readers.

    I have definitely made changes to stories at this point, and don't mind making the changes. I am comfortable enough with my writing to take criticism and trust the people who read my writing to make what I write even better.

    It's easier to make big changes, if needed, knowing that the story I wanted to write was written first.

  5. Glad I read your post. I've signed up for a novel workshop in April, and I don't have a full 75-80K mss yet. But, I do have a good portion of the story done. I was anxious about walking in with a half-told tale, but now I can see that I'll still benefit from the workshop regardless.