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On the Importance of Critique Groups

2:00 AM by any-s-killWriting can be—and often is—a solitary journey. The stereotypical and sometimes romantic notion of a writer alone in a room penning the next great novel does stem from truth. Most of the time, writers do their work alone, whether that be in a coffee shop surrounded by people or in their one-bedroom apartment surrounded by their pets. Even in a crowded, noisy location, the act of getting words on to the page is the writer’s responsibility alone.

And truth be told, it can get a bit lonely after a while.

One solution? The critique group. There’s a reason why “get a critique group” is often the most suggested piece of advice in the literary world at retreats or conference. I’ve said so myself during panels this summer! Why? Because critique groups can offer you, as a writer, numerous amazing and wonderful things. And trust me, I know. I’ve been with the same critique group for a long while now—they even welcomed me back after my graduate studies took me away for three years! It’s an amazing group of writers.

A Wealth of Knowledge & Sounding Board

First off, a critique group can provide you with a wealth of knowledge about the publishing industry since during your meetings you can share what you know. (Or ask questions!) Most critique groups are formed by writers from all walks of life—those just starting out, those more established—and there could be writers who are all on different paths to publication—self-publishing, traditional publishing, or even a hybrid. Each person brings a different perspective to the process and the meetings are a perfect opportunity to “compare notes” as it were and gain insight that you might not get elsewhere.

The Party by Rebecca Mock

The critique group can also be sounding board to bounce off of and a safe space to try out new ideas. Maybe you’ve always wanted to try out a specific trope or setting but didn’t know if you had it down right—send it to your critique group and see what they say. During the conversations and critiques, the back-and-forth will provide some great suggestions.

A Place to Give & Be Critiqued

Writing something and then putting it out for critique is no joke. The first couple of weeks were scary for me. My voice would shake whenever I said anything and I’m sure I turned beet-red when my turn came around. It’s hard to put yourself out there, knowing these people will—for sure!—have comments on how to make the work you worked so hard on, better. But joining and participating in a critique group makes you develop a thicker skin to constructive criticism and a more critical eye. And the fact that these people aren’t your parents, siblings, or non-writing friends makes it easier for them to be honest about what’s working and what’s not. (It also makes it easier for you to be honest for them.)

Papermate by snow lineThese meetings make you unafraid of the red pen, the comments scrawled on the margins, or the deletion of entire paragraphs or pages of your work. How, you may ask? Because when it’s your turn to critique the other people’s works, your eye will see similar things and you’ll make suggestions like that, too. It keeps your own editing eye sharp.

Truthfully, you’ll most likely get conflicting advice. One person may love this character’s description and another might find it too long, or one person might adore the ending whereas another could suggest cutting the last two pages. Different people will have different suggestions for what would make your work stronger. Your job is to figure out which suggestion to follow. It allows you to dig deep into what you and your readers actually want in your story and what could be taken out. On the other hand, if a lot of writers in the critique group are telling you a specific area or scene or setting, etc. isn’t working for them, it probably means you should go back and figure out why. (Having many people comment on the same area is actually a good thing.)

A Support System & Motivation

Notebook Heart by DevilQueenHaving a group of people to share your writing triumphs and be there when you need support cannot be overstated. Writing is tough; the highs are super high, but the lows are seriously crushing. You need a cheering squad made up of people who’ve been through it, too: namely other writers. Sure, your partner can celebrate when you get into that literary journal and your non-writing friend can sympathize when you get another rejection letter…but they don’t really know. Other writers just get it.

Another plus of having a regular critique group that meets weekly or monthly is it’s pure motivation! You’ll need to have something to submit for critique, right? Some writers have something every meeting, while others submit every other meeting. It’s whatever works for you. For my weekly writing group, I’m most comfortable submitting every other week. Write/revise one week, critique the next, etc.

A Place to Learn & Have Fun

Four-Leaf Clover by Tanjica PerovicHaving a critique group you bond with will make you a better writer. You’ll become better because of the critique process. And finally, it’s just fun to get together weekly (or monthly) to chat about writing! It takes some of the edge off the loneliness factor and can help you feel less like you’re writing all by yourself. Plus, if you connect with your critique group, you’ll most likely become friends, too, which is always a good thing.

So now that I’ve sung the praises of having a critique group, how do you go about finding one? There are a couple of super easy places you could hunt for the perfect group for you, namely local writing conferences and retreats, through official writing associations/organizations, via Meetups, or even in online communities. I suggest you start local—go to a writing conference nearby or look online for a critique group that meets in person somewhere close by. And be patient! It takes time to find the group you connect with.

Once you find one, though, you might as well have found a pot of gold in a field of four-leaf clovers.

Title image by DevilQueen.

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