Most of us have done it. We’re encouraged to do it. But when weighing the benefits against the costs (time as well as money), I can’t help but wonder – is it worth it?
I’ve taken more than my fair share of creative writing courses. There was a time when I would pour over the catalogue of whatever community college I lived near at the time, fingers crossed that there’d be some writing classes that I could audit. Then, the classes somehow devolved into a hot mess of something stinky that I felt the need to distance myself from, the seats no longer filled with aspiring writers, but students looking for an easy A and a place to show off, each piece they submitted an attempt to one-up the other students by being sillier, grosser, more absurd.
I briefly researched MFAs in Creative Writing, then settled on taking classes at UC Berkeley’s Writing Extension. Yet, at semester’s end, I really didn’t feel like I was gaining much for the time I spent doing what felt a lot like busy work.
I started a writer’s group. Except for a couple of egos, I found this to be much more beneficial than anything I had previously tried. Sitting around a table, discussing each other’s work, getting an actual critique and helpful suggestions, I feel like my writing gained depth and insight. Then I moved.
I considered starting another writing group, but the first took so much time and effort to get off the ground, that I held off. I concentrated on finding beta readers for my novel, instead. That resulted in some ego building, but other than a discussion over the proper way to type an em dash, very little constructive criticism.
Which brings me to where I am now. My mom, who I consider to be a very talented writer, reads my work before I submit it, but she’s my mom – she has only positive things to say. I fear my skin is growing thin. I need someone who isn’t afraid to use their paring knife on my work. Yet, at the same time, I’d rather avoid the critics who hate everything other than spreading misery.
I’ve been looking at the half dozen writing conference and critique emails that I receive every day. “Get your query critiqued by an agent.” “Learn what agents look for.” “Get an impartial critique of your work (for a price).”
My question is, does any of this work? Surely a well-known platform such as Writer’s Digest provides reputable services. But is it what I’m looking for? What am I looking for? I only know half the time, and even then, I’m not quite sure.
So, I pose the question to you, my fellow writers. Who has tried what, and how did you feel about the experience? What did you find beneficial, and what made you want to give someone a fatal papercut with your manuscript? Has anyone paid for critique services? Attended conferences? Tried to use your paper copy as a ninja star?