The hot topic the past few weeks at WOS has been critique groups/partners and it’s made me think about mine. I’ve had many these past years. Some are writers like myself, while others are friends and family, more of what I would consider beta readers. As I reflected on these relationships, I realized that I’ve had the luxury of having had a number of men read my manuscripts, stories I assumed would mostly garner a female audience.
My first venture into a writing group was the most terrifying. I’d written a 300,000 word, YA fantasy trilogy, an all-consuming experience that literally sucked up seven months of my life. I had the “ducky pajama syndrome” although my version was black yoga pants and an over-sized slouchy tee shirt. I literally had to throw my couch out after a year because I’d permanently indented the right side cushion, curled up with my laptop and drinking copious amounts of coffee that on more than one occasion sloshed onto the beige and white striped cushions.
I shared my new writing adventure with a friend that I’d heard published a book (turns out she self-published), who asked me to join her writing group. Intimidation only barely scratches the surface of what I felt after such an invite, but I ventured in anyway. Turns out, they’d all met in an MFA program a while back. But I survived, barely.
In that group was a man of about 47, James. He offered great advice and we became quite close. After this group broke up, he continued to come to my house once a month, along with another man about my age, and we’d drink wine and read our chapters to each other, offering advice. On another occasion I ran into a man at the gym, an English teacher who worked with my husband. I barely knew him but he eagerly confessed that he too had written a book and suggested we share our manuscripts.
I offered each of these men a way out, saying that I didn’t think they were my demographic but if they really wanted to read, I was honored to give it to them.
And I’m so glad. Men have a different perspective and since I’m not a guy, I write what I think, or more likely what I want a man to do or say, but it’s not necessarily the way guys think and talk. I had to laugh often, because the advice they gave began to have a familiar ring to it.
I always have a romantic thread in my stories (sorry, Heather and Robin), although I wouldn’t call most of them romance novels. I like action and adventure and pride myself on writing fast-paced dialogue and strong female protagonists who don’t need a man to get the job done. All of my male crit partners reinforced this, but ended with the same comment: “You have the talent to write a real page-turner, you keep us on the edge of our seats waiting to see what trouble will befall your protagonist. The climax, the action, the dialogue, it’s incredible but then… you spend fifty pages trying to get your lovers together. It’s back and forth, blah…blah…blah… Just end it already!”
The first few times my feelings were hurt. But I got over it and realized the accuracy of their words. Truthfully, I guess I thought guys were mostly about ESPN, spy novels, or political thrillers, the Fast and Furious franchise type. Stereotype much? GUILTY, I’m ashamed to admit. I wanted my male characters to be more sensitive, more verbal in their loving dialogue. But it was overkill. By a lot.
I’ll share this one last tidbit that actually blew me away. There are a number of blog posts/articles on the surprising number of men that read romance novels. Again, I had no idea. And here’s my first-hand experience with this. I had just found a new hairdresser after my old one moved away. He was a young man, probably in his late thirties. I had just finished reading the Twilight series, and told him I was writing a book. He was very interested in my book and made me tell him all about it. Then he added he’d read the Twilight series and loved it, and all the guys at his gym were reading it. If I’d jerked my head around in reaction to my startle, I would have had one of those haircuts where one side is distinctly shorter than the other. I couldn’t believe his words. And he wasn’t ashamed of it in the slightest.
Currently, most of my crit partners are women, and I love them to death. Their insights are laser-honed, honest, and always helpful. But I miss my men. I only have one left, and yes, he hit me with the same criticism about the ending of my newest novel. When will I ever learn? That’s why I need that male perspective to keep me honest.
Check out these other posts on Critique Groups / Partners: