Why join a critique group?
As a writer, have you joined a critique group yet?
I always knew this was important. After all, a lot of experts recommend it, and some successful authors claim they wouldn’t have even been published without the help of their critique group. And, I think constructive criticism is necessary in all aspects of life. But, to be honest, sometimes it got pushed onto the back burner, due to a busy schedule and other life obligations.
But, now that I’m settled into my new home and finally out exploring local Meetup groups, I found a great writing critique group right here in the West Valley of Phoenix.
So, how does a critique group help?
I’ve only been to a couple of meetings, but so far, here are a few pieces of advice that have been very useful to me…
*A point of view error that I needed to correct.
For a moment in the text, I had slipped out of my narrator’s head and into an omniscient point of view. That was a big mistake (even though it was subtle on the page), and a great catch by my fellow writer!
*Word choices, such as passive voice, or repetitive words.
In this matter, it always helps to have people who are hearing my chapters for the first time, who aren’t so close to the writing as I am. They catch a lot of the places where I slip into the passive voice, and offer ways to improve the sentences in question.
Plus, by reading my work out loud to fellow writers, it’s easy to catch words that I repeat too often (such as ‘hallway’, ‘look’, and a couple of others, in this case). By marking these during the meeting, I can go back later and make the writing stronger.
*Grammar and syntax.
I’m really more concerned about a content edit when I go to a critique group. After all, a few technical errors can be easily fixed… but, a problem with the story is a much more difficult thing! But, nevertheless, it helps to have any technical errors marked by my fellow writers. They each receive a copy of my chapter to mark up, and then they give it back to me to use at home while I’m editing.
I also enjoy receiving feedback on the pacing, tension, and other elements that go into a good story. Actually, this is probably the factor I’m most concerned with, and what I really want feedback on. Because, if there’s a problem, I’d prefer to fix it NOW rather than hear it from an editor or agent when I’m trying to sell my book. And, on the other hand, when I receive compliments in this regard, it really brightens my day.
This list is really just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much that a critique group can do for us as authors!
But, there are a couple of caveats to remember…
*First and foremost, the group should focus on constructive criticism, and not try to tear down any of its members or discourage them.
I think this is largely true for well-established critique groups nowadays. But, if you ever encounter a group that’s not like that, run the other way fast! There are better options out there.
As Stephen King pointed out in his book On Writing, it’s possible that not everyone will understand what you’re trying to do. For example, if you write gory horror stories, you may or may not want a cozy romance writer as a critique partner.
However, I have to say that this doesn’t hold true for my current group. I’m fortunate enough to have a couple of other “cat ladies” who understand what I’m doing with my cat book. But, even the writers of poetry, non-fiction, and thrillers have given my work a fair shake and looked at it objectively in terms of the quality of the writing and whether it held their attention.
And in some ways, it’s helpful to get an opinion from someone who’s not biased (i.e. not a children’s fiction writer) and just see how the writing holds up in general. So, you could go either way in terms of whether to have a genre specific group, or writers from all categories. See what works for you!
*Take the criticism as it suits you.
As a writer, it’s very easy to be defensive when someone critiques your writing, or tells you what’s not working for them. However, learn to let the defensive reaction fall away, and then look at their feedback objectively…
Do they have a good point? If so, that’s great! You can make the change, and make your book even better.
If not? Well then, don’t worry about it too much. Sometimes another writer might not understand the main point of your story (especially if they’re only reading one chapter or a small snippet). So, if their advice would alter your story in a direction you don’t want to take it, that’s OK. You can still thank them for their advice, but you don’t HAVE to make the change.
*Sharing your work.
Here’s a great piece of advice I once heard at a writer’s conference: If you’re the only one in the group that never shares your writing for critique, it’s like you’re the only one wearing clothes in a room full of naked people.
Prior to hearing this, I had thought it was OK to “listen in” on critique groups. To show up and learn, and help others by giving critiques, but not share my own work because I “wasn’t ready yet.” However, now I think the above piece of advice is spot on…
Because it’s the truth, isn’t it? If you write, then you know how hard it can be to put your writing out there, and chance it being criticized by others. Because, writing is a very personal endeavor. It’s a lot like taking a piece of yourself and putting it out there for the world to judge.
However, fair is fair… If your fellow members are sharing their work, you owe it to them (and yourself) to be vulnerable and do the same.
Plus, if you’re not actively trying to improve your own writing… then why are you even going there in the first place?
Of course, you can test out some new groups before you share, just to be sure they’re a good fit. But, after that, share, take the feedback as it best suits you and your project, and enjoy the process.
So, don’t be intimidated. Give it a try!
By having your work critiqued, you’ve just taken a serious step toward being a professional writer, and you’re one step closer to your writing dreams!