Wednesday, December 11, 2013

#WriterlyWisdomWednesday: Alana Lorens on Critique Groups

As a writer friend of mine scolded, “It may be fun to chunk out novel after novel, but until you put in the work to edit, they will never go anywhere!”

For me, it is in fact, fun to chunk out novels. I enjoy the process. I’ve won NaNoWriMo twice, creating a 50,000-word novel in thirty days. Over the years, I’ve written maybe twenty novel manuscripts. After I was 54 years old, I have been blessed enough to see them published—in fact, I received five contracts in 2010, three for fantasy novels, one for a romance and the last for women’s fiction; in 2011 two romance novels, a space opera and a fantasy, as well as a paranormal mystery; last year, a straight suspense, a YA post-apocalyptic series, a romance novella, and a romantic suspense, as well as a spooky short story for an anthology, and more coming. What has made the real difference for me is my critique group.

My personal editing process is stimulated, challenged and greatly aided by a talented critique group I met through Pennwriters. I can’t stress enough the value of a good critique group for any writer. While your mother/partner/daughter may rave about the wonders of your manuscript, if you’re serious about editing for the reading public, you need critical eyes of a variety of sorts. Our group, which meets every Thursday, is a veritable mashup of varied bodies of knowledge; a retired police officer, a therapist,  a lawyer, an artist, a technical copy writer, a barista, some students, some working, some retired–all gifted. Many are published in short form over the time I’ve belonged to the group, in newsletters, newspapers, or short story. The group boasts two published novelists, though others are coming up close behind.

This brings me to my first point: find a critique group at the level you need. If you’re just starting out, you’re still learning about everything—grammar, rhythm, metaphors—and need to become comfortable with the use of words on the page. What you don’t need in a critique group is a bunch of snippy professionals who will tear your piece apart as soon as you share it. You need a group with other beginners and a few mentors, a group that runs exercises each week to help you grow as a writer. Hold out for that group.

Conversely, if you’ve been writing some time and you’re ready for publication, you need a group with some published writers in it, to learn about queries and marketing and how to set your work before the public. You’ll want some harsher critiques—in a constructive way! Hopefully, your writer’s skin has thickened to the point where you can hear some criticism of the work, but still understand how changes might make the work better.

My second point: ego has no place in critique groups, on either the writing or reading side. In order to get the most from your feedback, you should listen, not talk. When group members comment on your work, take in what they say. They might not be right. They might not understand what you meant by a particular phrase or scene. Arguing with them just shuts down their urge to help you. Frankly, if the scene is so unclear that they missed the point—maybe the scene is that unclear. If only one person missed it, but the majority got it, maybe it’s fine. Listen. Then decide.

As a person giving feedback, remember your ego doesn’t matter, either. A critique session is not where you score points for being brilliant. Your opinion of someone else’s work only matters as far as it improves the other person’s work. It’s their work. Constructive criticism helps; tearing someone to bits doesn’t. In a business where sheer persistence is sometimes all that stands between a writer and publication, destroying their self-confidence to prop up your own ego is criminal. It happened to me, more than once. Receiving scathing words from someone claiming to “help,” I decided to give up any hope of being a writer. Thank the stars that my inner urges kept that from happening. Primarily because I found my new group.

What I like best about this group is the creative flow that works between us. Ego isn’t an issue. When we have questions, we toss them on the table, and they receive open, honest answers: Is this an information dump? Do you understand the character’s motivation? Is this too big a clue early in the story?

More importantly, in the discussion and exchange process, we’ve shared brainstorming moments that open the door to deeper understanding of my own work. What if your character did…? Perhaps the relationship between the girl and that boy could lead to…? What setting would make this scene most effective? What if the journey took on a more metaphoric flavor and…? I always love it when someone spots a meaningful undertone that I haven’t quite grasped, so I can coax it into the light.

Once you’ve worked over your manuscript with your group, then back to your computer to polish, polish, polish. Hopefully you have one writing partner who helps with final drafts. My critique mate Jean, a former high school English teacher, has read through just about everything I’ve submitted, even the science fiction she doesn’t like, attacking the pages with not only red pen but black and violet as well. Bless her. (No, really, I mean it!)

All in all, though writing is a solitary process, editing can work best as a collective. I’d urge any writer to find a group, online or in person, that provides what they need. Be prepared to do your share to help others along the way ; keep your ego in check. And start chunking out those novels!


When her big trial goes bad, corporate attorney Brianna Ward can't wait to get out of Pittsburgh. The Big Easy seems like the perfect place to rest, relax, and forget about the legal business. Too bad an obnoxious--but handsome--lawyer from a rival firm is checking into the same bed and breakfast. 

Attorney Evan Farrell has Mardi Gras vacation plans too. When he encounters fiery and attractive Brianna, however, he puts the Bourbon Street party on hold. He'd much rather devote himself to her--especially when a mysterious riddle appears in her bag, seeming to threaten danger. 

Strangely compelled to follow the riddle's clues, Brianna is pulled deeper into the twisted schemes of a voodoo priest bent on revenge. To escape his poisonous web, she must work with Evan to solve the curse. But is the growing love they feel for each other real? Or just a voodoo dream?


About Alana Lorens

Alana Lorens dreamed for many years of being a spaceship captain, but settled instead for inspired excursions into fictional places with fascinating companions from her imagination that she likes to share with others. She has been a published writer for over thirty years, including seven years as a reporter and editor at a newspaper in Homestead, Florida, with a list of eclectic publications from horror to tech reporting to television reviews. She writes urban fantasy and science fiction under the name of Lyndi Alexander. The Elf Queen, her first novel, was released by Dragonfly Publishing in July 2010; the series continued with The Elf Child, The Elf Mage and The Elf Guardian. She’s now working on the space opera Horizon Crossover series, and a YA trilogy, The Color of Fear—the first book, WINDMILLS, was published by Zumaya Publications this summer.  Writing as Alana Lorens, she produces romance and romantic suspense, including the Pittsburgh Lady Lawyer series, CONVICTION OF THE HEART, SECOND CHANCES, and the latest, VOODOO DREAMS, released by The Wild Rose Press in October 2013.


  1. Thanks for having me aboard, Terri! Alana

    1. Any time! Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us. :)

  2. I've been very blessed to have "grown up" with my critique group. We met in a writers group in 2008 and though we've all moved to different places, we meet regularly on Skype and still serve as both Alpha and Beta readers for each other. We added a new member this year, the first since relocating. The capability to receive honest feedback is absolutely priceless and I love what these ladies have done with my writing.

  3. Hi Babs,
    Whenever I hear people talk about critique groups, they either love them and can't write without them, like me, or they've had horrible experiences, and like you end up feeling like such terrible writers they want to quit.
    Maybe creating and maintaining good critique groups should be just as important to a writer as learning point-of view.
    Glad you didn't quit writing. Love reading your stories.

  4. Agree 100 percent, Robyn! Thanks for coming by. Alana

  5. Improving someone's work should be the only reason to offer a critique.
    I've never been part of a group, but I do have some amazing critique partners.