Voice vs. The Critique Group

There’s a wonderful discussion of “voice” happening over at Rachelle Gardner’s Rants and Ramblings blog. Rachelle is an agent I won’t be querying since she works exclusively in the inspirational market, but her views on writerly issues are very informative. I recommend adding Rants and Ramblings to your reading list.

Anyway, back to the topic…recognizing, establishing and nurturing your voice.

Here’s Rachelle’s definition of voice: “To me, your writer’s voice is the expression of YOU on the page. It’s that simple—and that complicated. Your voice is all about honesty. It’s the unfettered, non-derivative, unique conglomeration of your thoughts, feelings, passions, dreams, beliefs, fears and attitudes, coming through in every word you write.”

Yes! I agree wholeheartedly.

My voice began to emerge when I quit trying to “write like so-and-so” or to please this mentor or that, and began developing my own worlds, peopled with beings I both loved and feared. My loves. My fears.

What has this got to do with critique groups? Actually, quite a lot. My face-to-face critique group was a necessary part of my evolution as a writer. Having my stories ripped to shreds on a weekly basis taught me the difference between telling and showing, helped me recognize passive phrases, illuminated the many weed words I unwittingly cultivated…

However, once I learned all the craft lessons my newbie brain could fathom, I ran up against a problem. I began to hear the critiquers’ comments during the creative phase of my writing. I started worrying about what Alan and Ted would think of that passage, whether Nina or Devon would approve of that plot point, and whether my idea would intrigue Ray or Jerry. In other words, just when I had gained enough craft to allow my voice to emerge, I began to stifle it in an attempt to please the many and varied styles at the table.

Critique groups walk a fine line … mine was necessary to my education in craft, but it became a liability to my voice. How bizarre is that?

Eventually, I withdrew from the group (saving myself a 2-hour drive each way every Tuesday) and organized a small writing group that meets at my house. The difference? We rarely critique. We’re a support group and a safe, dedicated place to write once a week.

I remain in contact with my original group, still ask for and receive critique on my work. However, I no longer hear their comments during the creative muddle of the first draft. I’ve learned to leave my muse alone when she’s on a roll…I know my internal editor will clean up her mess during the polishing phase, and thanks to all the time I spent in that critique group, I have a long list of personal weed words to search out and destroy before I request a critique…

But I also have a voice with which to express my thoughts, feelings, passions, dreams, beliefs, fears and attitudes.

How about you? Found your voice yet?

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Voice vs. The Critique Group

  1. Inez Kelley

    This is hard for me. People tell me they love my Romcom voice and I had/have a lot of fun writing it but even then…

    I started to lean toward tender pain at the end of my Romcom (which totally was right for that story) and found exactly what I wanted to write. It flowed like water. Less crits than any part of the book.

    Really hard to let go of what people thought I wrote well (and I did dammit!) and write what I was discovering I wanted to write.(that’s a lot of w’s)

    My next MS was mostly tender pain with some lighthearted banter. Much better fit to me(personally). And they did like it. It just took them a while to adjust too.

    I have found more crits in humor tho. Not everyone laughs at the same thing. If one out of four thinks it is weird, tough cookies. More than one and I pay attention. There was one line in the book, I liked. Every. Single. Person. Commented. It. Was. Weird.
    *sigh* I still like the line. But I changed it.

    Voice has to be understood to be heard correctly.

  2. AJ

    I sometimes wish I had a face to face crit group just so that I could see people’s faces while we interacted. But I have one on the internet and that’s nearly as good, if slightly less visual.

    I think I got fortunate when it comes to my voice because I never read romance ever. And it never even occurred to me that I might be writing romance. Then I had to read a certain number of romance novels for a review assignment and I suddenly realized, hey, I’m not writing suspense, I’m writing romantic suspense. Bit of a shock. Had no clue. But the advantage was that no one else’s voice ever had a chance to seep in.

    I feel your pain a little about that Inez. Although I wondered why you stopped writing rom/com. For me, the easiest thing to write, the stuff that comes the easiest, is a first person, humorous voice. But I hardly ever use it because it doesn’t normally fit what I write. I’ve written one rom/com, well, two if you count Cat and Mouse, but I use that voice for my series mysteries.

    Interesting blog, Debbie.

  3. Inez Kelley

    Wanted to clarify.
    It is not that I will never write RomCom again. I will. It has just slightly morphed into more. My voice, I think, evolved and grew.

    I still think slapstick is funny though.

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