Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Critique Group Bloodshed

By Aaron Michael Ritchey

January, 2006, thats the first time I submitted my fiction to a critique group.  My very first session, I got lambasted and it took me literally two months to recover.  I was a sensitive child.  Too sensitive.  Part of being a writer is thickening the callous on your soul.

Here we are, nearly seven years later, and I took my brand new first chapter to my brand new critique group and wham, I got hit with bricks, bats, and bombshells.  At least that’s what it felt like.  I left distraught.  Had I learned anything in seven years?  Did my debut novel not teach me anything?  Would I ever improve?

I spent the night shaking my fist at heaven when I wasn’t wringing my hands in the basement.

I think the number one problem with being a human being is our faulty memories.  At least my memory is faulty.  I had forgotten that 10% of the critique is listening to comments at the critique session.  90% of the work is done by myself, with what I call the committee.

The committee is my innate genius (um, Im using that word liberally) that knows when a critique is right on and when I can skip it.  Even in my critique group of extremely successful writers, every comment is not gold.  Some are brass.  Some are porcelain.  And some are what goes into the porcelain.

Now, after my first chapter shellacking, it didnt take me two months to recover.  The very next day, after a hard night of fist-shaking and nightmares about red pens, I took the comments from my critique group, sat down, and got to work.

On the pages, no one had written, “Aaron, you suck!”  See, my memory was bad.  I could have sworn the night before, someone had said those very words.  But they didn’t.  It was a normal critique.  Some good.  Some bad.  Most just normal stuff.  My emotional reaction was completely unwarranted.  Yes, my first chapter had serious problems, but problems can be fixed.  Always.  With an open mind and a few drops of innate genius.

And do you know what the final solution was to my poor opening?  I went back to my original first chapter, the one that I wrote but thought was too literary.  Since my current work in progress is epic, I opened with a call to the muse, disguised as the Virgin Mary.  Hail Mary, full of luck, give me a chapter that doesn’t suck.
My friend Mario just says thank you during critique.  We love his stuff.  Thank you.  We hate his stuff.  Thank you.  Just thank you.  And that’s the best thing to say because I won’t know what’s true or what’s false until I get with the committee.  Then I’ll know. 
Like most of writing, 90% of the work is done by myself.  The other 10%?  Well, I just have to remember to say thank you.  And then not take myself or my emotions so seriously.
The committee, in the end, will be the final word.

About the Writer:  YA Paranormal author Aaron Michael Ritchey has penned a dozen manuscripts in his 20 years as a writer.  When he isn’t slapping around his muse, Aaron cycles to look fabulous, works in medical technologies, and keeps his family in silks and furs.  His first novel, The Never Prayer, hit the streets on March 29, 2012.


  1. "Hail Mary, full of luck, give me a chapter that doesn't suck."

    I think I've found my new daily devotional.

  2. Aaron: misery loves company. Thanks for sharing. I am soon to be back in the critique group setting with my first novel. I know there is much work to do. I hope I've learned something from my first adventure into Critique Group madness. At time it's the best, at times, like you, I wonder if I'll ever make strides to match the group's expectations/desires.

    I love you that you allow the committee have the final word. It's your work and it's never as bad as the "helpful" group comments make it too be.

    My struggles are still mine, but at least now I know I'm not walking the road alone.

  3. Thanks Margaret and and Dean for commenting! Yeah, the daily devotional. It's hard.

    But Critique Groups are about making the work better. I find them as a shortcut, but I've been lucky to have been in two great, positive, constructive groups. If the group is all about the hate, I'd find another one.

    But good luck out there!

  4. This is an excellent take on critiques and how to handle them, Aaron. It takes awhile to learn which suggestions to implement and which ones to shred, but it's worth sticking with our groups and figuring it all out.

  5. Thanks for sharing! "Hail Mary, full of luck, give me a chapter that doesn’t suck!" love it, and good luck with your future critiques


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.