For one big reason, I feel as if I won the Utah writer lottery (assuming there would ever be such a thing!): I belong to one of the most remarkable critique groups on the planet.
It began with Lu Ann and Stephanni, who both lived in Spanish Fork and wanted to start up a group. Lu Ann pulled out her trusty directory from the League of Utah Writers and began calling around to writers in the area. This is a very scatter-shot way of creating a group, and by all odds, it shouldn't have worked as well as it did.
I remember distinctly when she called me. It was a July evening as I bathed my two children and was monstrously pregnant with my third, due at the end of the month. I was also finishing up my third year (and second pregnancy during that time) in the Young Womens presidency of my ward. I had been writing faithfully for some time, getting rejections and publishing a few articles, but I hadn't managed to get a book contract yet.
So when Lu Ann asked if I'd like to join, the answer was, "YES!" but at the same time, "Not yet!"
I knew that 1) I'd be giving birth in a couple of weeks and 2) with a newborn added to two small toddlers AND a high-demanding church calling, I couldn't possibly add one more thing to my plate without having it crack. I had a sneaking suspicion that our presidency would be released in a few months, so I asked if I could possibly join then. She said yes.
The following January I arrived with the first chapter of one of my books. When it was my turn to read aloud, my heart beat so hard and fast I swear it nearly jumped out of my throat. (All told, it took me about eight months of regular attendance to stop being so terrified to read aloud and a couple of years to stop be nervous at all.) It was tough; I had never gotten immediate, verbal feedback, and since a critique group is all about improvement, not a lot of time was spent on what I did right (if anything, which I doubt; looking back, I realize how green I was as a writer).
But I kept going back. Some group members moved away. Others just dropped out. But as we went along, new members took their places. We became close friends. We all improved dramatically. And we all started selling our work.
Oh yeah, and after I brought an entire book to the group and did some major doctoring as a result, I landed my publisher. Coincidence? Not hardly.
I'll never, ever, turn something in without my group going over it. We still meet about weekly, but many of us now have deadlines, and we rarely get to bring an entire book, chapter by chapter from start to finish. So when we finish a manuscript, we print it out and hand over the whole thing to each other, then trade edits.
I recently went over Michele Paige Holmes's next book, and she went over mine. Heather (H. B.) Moore also went over mine, and very soon I'll be going over hers. Jeff Savage is reading mine, and when that's done, I'll likely get his. Is it time consuming to read other people's stuff? Absolutely. But getting their feedback in return is priceless. (Okay, you CAN pay for a professional edit, and if you don't have a group like mine, I highly recommend it, but if I can get one in trade, why would I pay for one, especially when some of them are professional editors?)
Today I reached page 183 of 320 on Michele's edit of my Manti book. She caught a bunch of great stuff, including a historical detail hole I need to fill, typos the computer would never catch, awkward sentences, motivation issues, and so much more.
In a couple of days, I'll be getting Lynda's review back on all the horse stuff. (Ay, ay ay . . .) She's our group's resident expert on horses, and since you can't get away from them in historical novels (and darn it, this one has a horse playing a major role), I need her knowledge to make sure I don't call a bridle a harness make the horse do something really impossible.
Then there's our newest member, James (at least we think he's a member . . . James, you will come back to us, right? :D)
It's amazing that our little group has been in existence in some form since July of 1999. Come January, I'll have been in it for 8 of its 8 1/2 years. And every single person in the group has sold their work. Several are best-sellers in their markets.
If I had one tip for aspiring writers, it would be this:
GET THEE TO A CRITIQUE GROUP.
And if I had a second one, it would be make sure it's a GOOD group.
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