If you’re a writer, you need a critique group.

This is a stunning epiphany for me. I didn’t always believe it. After all, I wrote my first two books without group input. I managed to acquire a drop-dead fantastic agent, and I now have my first publishing contract.

So who needs a critique group? You can succeed without one, right?

Maybe–briefly. But I feel like a kid who just graduated into junior high. All those little quirks the grownups (a.k.a. agents and editors) used to think were adorable are now perceived as juvenile and/or annoying. Nobody laughs when I screw up anymore. Nobody thinks my foibles are cute.

I’m a professional now, and expectations are up–but I’m still the same person, burdened by the same flaws.

Fortunately, I was invited by Pam Nowak (the talented author of “Chances” and the upcoming “Choices”) to take her spot in a writing group when she left Cheyenne.

Lucky, lucky me. Each member of the group has a different writing superpower, and together, they’re like the Fantastic Four (Super Six?), or maybe The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (although we actually only have one Gentleman and a whole bunch of Gentlewomen). Every element in my manuscript, from the trajectory of the romance to the character arcs, from the grammar and syntax to the nuts-and-bolts details, will be scrutinized and analyzed and quite possibly pulverized.

All to my benefit.

I love the new book, but like every work in progress, it has flaws–and I want to iron them out before my poor beleaguered editor has to deal with them. The trouble is, I’ve been immersed in the story for so long I can’t see it clearly anymore. It’s like trying to figure out which ocean you’re in when you’re sinking and swallowing seawater. At this point, I’m the least qualified person to figure it out.

Enter critique group.

I sent out a message tonight, begging them to read the new book, apologizing for the fact that I have less than a month to deadline and I’m only just getting it to them now.

Their lives are as busy as mine -– busier, actually. They have families and jobs and issues (all writers have issues – it’s a prerequisite), and their own muses are tugging at their shirtsleeves. But the e-mails are in. Their main concern is that they might not be able to get it done by the end of the week.

Dang. I am so lucky to have these amazing friends.

Thanks. I love you guys.