Blogger: Mary Keeley
Writing can be a lonely passion. Who understands that better than other writers? It’s one reason critique groups can’t be underestimated. The main goal of belonging to a group is to continually grow your craft and build a strong connection with other writers in an objective yet supportive environment.
Some writers seem to hold back from joining a group because of fear their critique partners will slice and dice their manuscript, crushing the writer’s dreams forever. Okay, I’m exaggerating . . . maybe. Even if this were the case, you’d rather hear it from a group of fellow writers before it reaches an agent’s or editor’s desk, wouldn’t you?
If you are one of these writers, first recognize you are stunting your career. There is no better way to grow than to learn how to accept honest critiques. So breathe deeply and take the risk FORWARD to find a critique group. With today’s technology, you aren’t limited to a local group. Members can email manuscripts and critiques to each other and share the cost of video conferencing or use Google+ hangouts and other similar options for your group meetings.
Next, be aware that critique groups vary depending on their members. How will you know that a group is right for you? There is no magic answer. You just have to try some out. Give yourself an adequate chance to connect with a group. Sometimes it takes a while to get to know and understand other people’s personalities and idiosyncrasies. But if the blending of your personalities or goals hasn’t happened after a reasonable amount of time, you need to try another group, because the current one isn’t benefiting you.
Here are criteria to help you to decide if a group is a good fit for you:
- Do you feel comfortable with most of the other members? Ask each group you visit what their main objectives are. Do they match what you think you need in your writing career?
- Do some—preferably most—of the members write in a similar genre? If you write how-to books on parenting and the rest of the members write contemporary and historical fiction, it isn’t the right group for you, even if it feels like a fit in every other way. The other members don’t have the expertise to give you helpful critiques, and worst case, their suggestions might even be detrimental. Conversely, you don’t have a matching set of writing skills to contribute to their writing needs.
- Are there varying levels of skill among the members? The ideal group would include members who are published and whose level of craft is more advanced than yours, as well as those newer to writing whom you can help. You’ll feel like you’re not only on the receiving end but are also contributing to the group. The end result will be a boost in your confidence, and you’ll probably discover something applicable for your own work while helping another member.
- Is the group’s level of order and timeliness similar to yours? This value is more important than you might think at first. Members tend to gravitate to a group that shares their own penchant for order and promptness. Some groups are more relaxed about deadlines for critiques, while others insist members be punctual. Frustration can build if there is a mismatch in this area.
- Do you feel a growing level of trust within the group with everyone genuinely supporting each other and striving to help each other achieve your best work? In this kind of safe environment, constructive criticism is given and received positively.
- Don’t forget to pray for discernment and listen for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
Why else is belonging to a critique group important?
- Think back. How many times have you read a piece you’ve written and overlooked a glaring mistake until someone pointed it out? Your manuscript needs to be seen by fresh eyes. It’s preferable to have at least two or three critique partners. If more than one critique points to the same problem—or strength—you’ll have confirmation where you’re doing well and where you need to make corrections. “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success” (Proverbs 15:22).
- One of your partners might be especially good at picking out plot problems, another at characterization issues, and another at technique, grammar and punctuation. Group members learn together, and the positive results are evident in each manuscript.
If you’re in a critique group, what have you learned from some of your partners recently? How did you know your group was right for you? And how did you find your group?