By January Rowe On May 23 2011, 1:17 pm
Writing is pretty much a solitary pursuit. It’s just the author, persistence and imagination. It’s easy to get professionally lonely. Critique groups provide much-needed human contact for authors like me. These get-togethers have given me access to business gossip. They also provide plenty of writing advice and support.
The personality of a particular critique group is as unique as the people in them. Some critique groups are run like exclusive secret societies. These associations are highly formal, with a rigorous audition-based application process, limited enrollment and maybe even its own fancy website. Other groups are more inclusive, perhaps part of a non-profit writer's organization like the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.
Online critique groups are another option for authors with inflexible work schedules or those living in the middle of nowhere. I’ve always been afraid to join an online group, though. I believe humans (and writers) are more apt to be flippant and cruel when they think they're anonymous.
It's tremendously satisfying to be part of a critique group when there's a grounding in mutual respect. However, that can be tough to pull off when the group writes a variety of genres.
I write (and read) everything from thrillers to science fiction, but I adore romance most of all. I love the intrinsic drama. How do two independent people come together to form a partnership? Erotic romance adds another delicious dimension. The sex now must reflect both the nature of the individuals and the joined character of the couple.
Presenting sex scenes to a critique group brings up a whole new set of problems, though. Sex scenes, even when they aren't graphic, are intimate. A romance writer can easily poke a crit partner’s hot buttons (and not in a good way). I left my critique group after one of my crit partners rewrote my entire sex scene to conform to her vision of feminism. Her rewrite didn’t make sense to me. I believe certain universal human activities, like sex and childbirth, are so profound they transcend social or political ideals.
Striking out on my own turned out to be a good thing. Writing without a hall monitor allowed me to explore the more extreme themes of BDSM erotic romance. Kink layers on lovely interactional complexity. The dynamic involves a measure of power transfer, intensifying the hazards and delights of the romantic relationship.
A few months ago, an online acquaintance from a BDSM community site, sent me a short story to critique. I was flattered she’d asked me because I admire her so much. Her story was a tender, literary f/f tale about wax play. Her work was fabulous. Sadly, I’m probably never going to be able to tell her in person, because she lives on another continent.
But interacting with her made me realize how much I’d missed live author contact. Last month, after years of being a writing hermit, I joined a critique group again. I’m thrilled and happy I did.
I just don’t bring in my sex scenes.