Six years ago, I moved across the United States, from West Virginia to Colorado. I didn’t know anyone except my husband. And I was lonely for my friends back east. I needed to find a way to connect with new people – preferably ones who cared about the same interests I did.
I found a critique group for fiction authors. That critique group turned out to be exactly what I needed… and then some.
Writers typically have a love-hate relationship to having their work critiqued. But if you’re looking to improve your writing skills, or even get your book published, a critique group is a great first step on that road to becoming a professional writer.
But just what is a critique group? Is it a bunch of eccentric old harridans collected around a table? Cloistered recluses who rip books to shreds while rapping knuckles with a ruler? Will you sit there shamefully, red-faced and embarrassed, while others look down their nose at you clucking, “Tsk, tsk!”?
Not even close. (Thank God.)
A critique group provides you with willing readers interested in helping your writing and your book be the best it can be. They’re formed of various people with different careers, lifestyles, interests and perceptions – and that’s extremely valuable to you.
The more people your book engages, the more successful it becomes.
Your critique group reads your book and thinks of ways you could improve on it. Some focus on storytelling so your book is persuasively page-turning. Some focus on grammar and better sentence structure. Some enjoy practical information, and they’ll let you know if there’s a hidden gap hiding out.
And, of course, your critique group provides you with much-needed support when you feel like giving up or you’ve found yourself stuck and staring at a blank page. Everyone in the group has been there – they understand what you’re going through (unlike your non-writer friends), and their solutions might be the perfect fit to get you back to slamming out the pages.
Sure, the first time I attended my critique group meeting, I felt strange and awkward. But these people welcomed me and shared at least one interest with me: a love of writing.
And yes, it felt daunting to share my writing with these strangers. After all, they were about to look for problems in the story I’d worked so hard to create. What if they didn’t like it?
I was asking these people to find fault with my baby!
But the only way to become a better writer is to know where you can improve so you can learn from your mistakes. You can’t figure this out on your own – you need someone else to read your work and allow them to tell you what’s wrong with it.
We’re all a bit too close to our own work.
And that’s where your critique group comes in handy. The members of your critique group have made the commitment to provide you with honest feedback at all times (in exchange for your own, of course). They’re not there to rip your work apart or chastise you for not being good enough.
They’re there to point out areas that work for them and those that don’t, while giving suggestions on how you could change something in your book or improve your writing for the better.
They’ll praise your efforts and your writing, absolutely. But no one will heap on compliments that aren’t well-deserved. That’s helpful, because it gives you objective feedback you can trust.
Think about it: How many times in your life have people have told you, “Oh, that’s great!”… and yet you doubt their word? Plenty, I’ll bet – but you’ll never hear white lies like that in a critique group.
You’ll hear genuine opinions, both good and bad. And you know what? You’re under no obligation to take the advice. You don’t have to actually do anything about anyone’s suggestions at all. The final decision on whether to implement any changes or not is YOURS.
After all, it’s your book!
That’s a great benefit: You get to listen to another person’s point of view about your work, and sometimes their ideas spur your own imagination. You may come up with something even better than they did!
In well-developed critique groups, you’ll find the suggestions are sound and the advice is solid – and extremely helpful. You’ll have more options open to you and more resources as you continue your writing work.
You’ll get to help others in the same way too – you’re all working towards the same goal of being better writers who create better books. And that encouragement might be exactly what you need to succeed.
That’s just my experience with a critique group, of course. Now it’s your turn to tell me about yours: Have you ever been part of a critique group? Did you enjoy it? Was it helpful? Or maybe it was frustrating? Share your stories with me – I want to hear them!