Cheryl St.John: Two (or three or four) Heads Are Better Than One

stjohn.jpgI am a writer who appreciates a good critique group or partner. I was in a critique group for a few years before I was published, and have been in one all the years since I’ve been published—and most of those years in a group that meets every single week. My group goes through stages. Stage of productivity, members moving away, and our process of screening a replacement.

Every January we each buy a datebook or planner and use it as a tool for the coming year. We share our goals and hold each other accountable. My friend *lizzie starr has a couple of great blogs on goal planning and using a calendar if that interests you. E and

It’s serious business, this critique group thing. You don’t invite anyone who isn’t compatible. You have to respect the people who are going to offer comments on your work. For me it has nothing to do with published or unpublished; it has to do with work ethic, knowledge or willingness to learn, and enthusiasm. I especially love having a new person or a beginning writer in the group because of their energy.

And frankly another brain ain’t nothin’ to turn your nose up at. I love my other brains during the brainstorming process or when I’m stuck. Sure, I get the ideas on my own, I put the pieces together and make all the decisions, but I only have one brain and one life experience. Getting feedback from other writers who have different perspectives AND understand the process of story writing is invaluable to me.

no double chins

I know some writers who don’t like anyone else meddling in their stories—some find it changes their story too much. I go into the process with elements I’ve chosen that I won’t budge on, so the possibility of taking my story a wrong direction isn’t a problem or a possibility. I’m flexible about everything else because new perspectives keep me fresh. If someone in my group makes a suggestion that isn’t considered, it’s not because it was a bad suggestion; it’s just because that idea didn’t work for that writer’s story. We all understand that. Nobody gets her nose out of joint.

Our noses are all in joint, thank you.

9780373828333_PRDLast year my started a different critique as well. Once a month, one of the members, Teryl Oswald, hosts an evening critique session to which all chapter members are invited. The members break up into brainstorming and critiquing groups and spend the evening working on each other’s stories. I enjoy it because it’s a terrific way to work with a more diverse gathering, hear other people’s ideas and stories and get to know chapter members I otherwise wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to know. It’s a great place for beginners to find help and instruction.

I got my author copies of my April Mother’s Day anthology, To Be a Mother. My story is called Montana Rose, and it involves a school teacher, an orphan, and a stubborn rancher. Today I’m offering autographed copies to three readers whose names I’ll draw from the comments. Since I won’t be blogging here again before Valentine’s Day, this will be my Valentine offering.


+ posts

59 thoughts on “Cheryl St.John: Two (or three or four) Heads Are Better Than One”

  1. I’ve been in great critique groups and ones that just don’t mesh. But a great group is so helpful and supportive. I’m a better writer because of my crit buddies, and they are among my best friends.

    I’d love to read your new book, Cheryl.

  2. Best of luck with your writing! I think that constructive criticism from fellow writers and friends is a great idea. HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

    I’d love to read Montana Rose.

  3. Good morning!

    I had a fabulous critique group first starting out. We met once a week and were required to bring 10 new pages. I have the fondest memories of those times…..

    Cheryl, your new book looks wonderful. Can’t wait to read it!!!


  4. I was just watching an old episode of What Not to Wear yesterday. The fashion “victim” was one of the most stubborn I have seen on the show..”no one is going to tell me how to dress,” “who do they think they are? Did you see how THEY dress?” etc. She was mainly hurt by the comments her family made and lashed back. But by the end of the show, she had been transformed and realized her family did what they did out of love.

    I really drew an analogy as I read your article. Critique groups must have trust on the one hand and tact on the other to succeed.

    Continued writing blessings….put me in the drawing but know if I don’t get it, I will be buying it like I do all your other works.

  5. I wondered who authors asked for input on their books. Thanks for sharing what works for you! I love the picture of the girls–looks like a fun group! I’m sure they love being a part of something that gets published, even if it’s not their own.
    New book looks good! I have a special spot in my heart for anything in Montanna…someday I’ll get there myself 🙂

  6. Cheryl you all look like a great bunch I am just wondering how you get any brain storming going with all the goodies I am sure you are sampling. LOL that is the fun of it food makes the brain work better.

    Love the cover and I am sure the book will be great I haven’t read one of yours that wasn’t wonderful they all touch me in so many ways.. As you know I just wished you could write a little faster that is how much I love your books.
    I hope you have a great Valentines day and remember not to much chocolate. Wink….

  7. Morning!
    I love being a part of my critque group. Even when I don’t have pages of my own to read, there’s usually something to be garnered from the discussion. And it’s so much fun to see everybody’s ‘process’ and learn from that as well.

    And yes, Cheryl, those extra brains do help oodles!

  8. I’m not a writer, but I’ve often consulted friends on decisions I’ve made in the past. A fresh outlook is always useful. I like the cover on your book, I always enjoy motherhood stories.

  9. Hi, Cheryl! “To Be a Mother” sounds wonderful! I’d love to be the little girl on the cover, running in the sunshine with the smell of freshly washed laundry scenting the air : ) I think critique groups can be very helpful, as long as they are friendly acquaintances and not close friends. People from outside your family and friends circle can offer fresh insight and sharpen your perspective. Sometimes with friends and family, critiquing can cause uncomfortable moments.

    gcwhiskas at aol dot com

  10. I’m an avid reader , who really love to know a new Author for me out there 🙂

    i always talk to my hubby or my big family when i want to make a decision.

  11. Cheryl your anthology looks heartwarming and inspiring. And your critique group looks the same. I was in a writer’s group early on, but it was mostly social. Since those early days I’ve been a “loner” in my writing, pretty much trusting to my own judgment, which is sometimes wrong, but I learn. I do agree that the right critique group can be great.

  12. Great post, Cheryl. My group and I are pretty sporadic these days, as one moved across the country and had a baby and the other switched genres and is very successful and busy all by herself LOL. But I learned so much from her, from them both.

    I do enlist my hubby and a good friend as well. In fact, he came up with the name for my next hero!

    Loved the picture of your posse 🙂 oxoxoxoxoxox

  13. Hello!
    I wanted to comment on your cover and how it says, “two heartwarming stories of home, love and family”. Purrrrrrfect! You’ve got me just on those words. Every single word has significance: there are “two” stories, so that’s a bonus … “heartwarming” make you feel good all over … “home” – lots of stories don’t emphasize home anymore … “love” – duh! … and “family” – again, many stories just talk about individuals far away from home!
    Yes indeed, this book has just the right elements. Thanks for sharing your time and book with us!

  14. What a great use of the power of positive thinking. I love how your group plays to each other’s strengths. What a powerhouse your writers will become. This is awesome inspiration.

    Nan O’Berry

  15. I am also a firm believer in the power of critique groups. Not only do they help catch errors and brainstorm ideas, but they are a wonderful source of encouragement and friendship. My partners are all online, but when we find each other at conferences, it is like we are meeting old friends!

    Your Mother’s Day anthology sounds wonderful. Although, I have to ask how your fellow filly is taking the news that you stole her title. LOL. I remember all the “Cowboy Christmas” titles in common the fillies had in December, and now you and Mary both have a “Montana Rose”. Just goes to show that a good title is a good title. Hope you both generate many new readers with it!

  16. I am also a reader. When it comes to making big decisions I will usually ask someone else what they think! It is alway nice to see what other people think. Glad you have such a good group!

  17. This book is on my to buy list. I’m always looking to see what’s coming out in the future months and making my list. I would be lost without a book in my hand. The cover is wonderful to go with 2 heartwarming stories.

  18. Hi Cheryl!

    I belong to a small critique group, and it is working out fine, bouncing ideas off each other and letting each other know when something doesn’t work, and not taking offense when someone ‘critters’ your work! You’re right, compatibility and respect is a must!
    Your new book sounds wonderful, love the cover!

  19. Cheryl, I couldn’t agree more. Without my CPs my stories wouldn’t be as good. But a proper fit is so important. You have trust that your “baby” (your story) will be handled with love–tough love, sometimes, but still loving. And that trust goes both ways. My cps trust me to tell them when something just doesn’t work, even when I don’t want to hear it. 🙂

  20. Hi Cher — I love critique groups! I also love plotting sessions! I’m an awful plotter so any help is always appreciated! You’re so lucky to have so many like-minded writers to bounce ideas off! Love the new cover too. Is it a two in one, and not three stories? Just wondering!

  21. I am not a writer, but I do like to talk to others about some things… asking their opinions…
    I have to agree with the others… wonderful cover! Happy Valentine’s Day early! 😀

  22. Good morning, Laurie and Caroline. Thanks for coming by and commenting.

    Hi Tabitha! Yes, my critique group is very close. We even celebrate birthdays and holidays together.

    Brenda – that’s a black forest cake – I should have included the recipe,eh? Will do that when I post the winners. Chocolate adds to the brainstorming process, don’t you know?

  23. Karen, I don’t think my novella title matters much, since it’s not on the cover of the book, so I probably didn’t steal any of Mary’s thunder.

    Oh, come on, who could steal Mary’s thunder? She’s the queen of cowboy thunder.

  24. Cheryl, you’re so lucky to have found a great critique group. I’ve been in some where it just didn’t work out. And I’m not in a group now, but I have one writer friend who I trust and we read each other’s work. She’s always coming up with the most amazing ideas, things I hadn’t even considered. I wouldn’t take the world for her.

    Wow, I didn’t know you were going to have an anthology coming out so soon! Great! That’ll give me something good to read. Montana Rose is a title that grabs me. Can’t wait to read it.

  25. Hi Cheryl! What a terrific group of ladies! There’s nothing like batting an idea around with fellow writers. You never know what someone else will come up with. It’s like finding new spices in your kitchen. A little bit of something new adds all sorts of excitement to a familiar meal.

    Can’t wait to read your Mother’s Day novella!

  26. Mother used to quote “words of wisdom” to us and
    today’s was a favorite. Also “many hands make a
    task lighter.”

    Pat Cochran

  27. the group looks like they would have fun together; isn’t it wonderful to find that many who fit together and get along well.

    I think the cover of your book, which I’d love to win, is cute. Oh how I remember the old ‘wash days’ of going to the clothesline and hanging everything up to dry. Also, one hoped there was enough breeze to make a difference.

  28. Cheryl,

    I must tell everybody here what a wonderful teacher you are. I love critique groups but here where I currently live there are none close. I am looking for a critique partner online but so far nothing.

    I want everybody here to know that Cheryl’s books are wonderful. I own them all. Her online classes are wonderful too. You learn alot.

    I am sorry I am late today Cheryl but I have a new Simease cat that my husband says is for Valentine’s Day.

    Walk in harmony, my dear friend


  29. Greetings, Abi, Quilt Lady and Cathy! Great to see you today.

    Sounds as though you have a good group, too, Karyn.

    I agree 100% Tracy. Trust is a must!

    Charlene, the LIHs are two stories, rather than the three we’re used to at HH. More words, but also more % of the money. ::SMILE:::

  30. Thanks, Terri. I like the cover, too. Just plain sweet, isn’t it?

    Linda, I’ll be the the Christmas anthology next year, too. All I have to to is come up with a story and write it. LOL

  31. Hi Karen and Joye!

    Robyn, I used to love hanging laundry outdoors in the sunshine. I tell my kids I washed all their diapers and hung them on the line, and they can’t even conceive of it. They think I lived in the age of dinosaurs.

  32. I love the cover of the book and can’t wait to read it. This is definately a book I’ll want to read. I’ll cross my fingers that maybe I’ll even win a copy. Have a Happy Valentine’s Day!

  33. I just unsuccessfully tried to start a critique group, not for the first time, and I’ve had miserable luck finding and/or organizing one. I would love to be part of a group, but I have reached the end of my resources in that respect I wish I could find advice on critique groups that worked for me.

  34. Cheryl, your group looks like a bunch of fun loving ladies. You are so fortunate to have them in your life. Friends are such an important part of a healthy life. I can hardly wait for this book. The cover is adorable.

  35. I’m just making the deadline, I hope. I couldn’t work without a critique group! You guys were the best.

  36. The word critique makes some people rather nervous. It takes a secure person to let others look at their work and make suggestions. For a writer just starting out, having such a great group of ladies to work with must be a big help. TO BE A MOTHER looks and sounds like a good book. I can think of several family members who would enjoy it.
    Have a great weekend and Happy Valentines Day.

  37. Hi ladies sorry I’m late (the hubby’s birthday).
    There is nothing like good advise and fresh ideas.

    Can’t wait for your new book, I love your stories my favorite is still Sweet Annie”.

    Happy Valentine’s Day to all

  38. M.M Justus: Sorry you’ve had trouble getting a group together. If you ever want to chat about it –

    You’re right, Connie. Friends get us through the tough times and help ius celebrate the god times.

    Hello, Estella and Anne!

    Hello, Sherri S. – sweetie pie. I have a little something for you when ICU

    Thanks, Patricia! What a busy day it was at the junction.

    Hi Sherry. Happy birthday to the hubby. Thanks for loving Sweet Annie. I’m a little partial, too.

  39. Just wanted to say I love your books–keep em coming–and look forward to reading To Be A Mother when I can get my hands on a copy!!

  40. Well said, Cheryl! I didn’t comment the first couple times I read through your article, as you thoroughly covered the basics and value of a good critique group. What you said about suggestions *not* taken really resonated with me, though.

    Your explanation of what you can and cannot be flexible about, and why, should be read by every new writer. We should always strive to improve our skill, but our ‘voice’ makes each of us special, whether we write for publication, for friends or for our own pleasure. Brava!

  41. Thanks, Ann! One thing I stress in my workshops is that as imperative as editing and rewriting are, we can’t edit the life out of our writing or our voice will become lost.

Comments are closed.