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In the beginning, this was the beginning:
“Once there was a girl named Rapunzel who lived with her great aunt.”
I know, I know; you're not sure whether to cringe or snore. Not a great way to start a novel. That's the first sentence from one of the early versions of my book, “Rapunzel.” Clearly, I needed help. How could I magically transform this blah sentence into an effective hook?
Enter the writing group.
My story was like many ideas: an uncut diamond. It's pretty... but not quite there yet. A diamond only really shines once its been cut and polished. That's what a writing group does for you. They take your words and trim and polish them under a magnifying glass. They help you to get out of your own way to make your story sparkle. After a few rounds of brutal critiques, I arrived at:
“My fingertips brushed against the uneven stones, tracing the faint outline of the door. I remembered the day Granny Aunt bricked it up—with me inside.”
Ta da! And the real beauty of it is that those are still my words. I can still be proud of my own work. I just needed someone to tell me what I was doing right and where the problems were. It's a back-and-forth process with the sole purpose of taking my ideas—my story, my words—and making them clear to another person. It's still mine, just understandable.
This illustrates something I was told in college: “Art can't exist in a vacuum.” But I think they're wrong. I think it's creativity that can't exist in a vacuum. Without outside inspiration and mental stimulation, our work becomes stale and flat. And Critique Circle generates a creative atmosphere in two ways: 1) you can get other opinions about what you've already written, and 2) it forces you to read other people's work. Both of these refine and encourage the budding author—and their writing.
Because we writers need encouragement! Is there anything so soul-crushing as the writing process? We need someone to tell us that, yes, what you have here is a diamond, it just needs some polish. My favorite critiques are always the ones that bluntly tear up my work, but then turn around and compliment me on something else.
Where would my work be without Critique Circle? Well, I think the beginning speaks for itself.
So thank you, Critique Circle. Thanks for helping me find the right beginning for my novel. And for the middle. And the end.
Jessica Kaye lives in Florida with her husband and infant son. Her first novel, a retelling of “Rapunzel,” is available on Amazon. She is currently working on her next book, a parallel novel called “Rapunzel's Prince.”