I have a friend who was talking with me about critique groups. She said something that made it impossible to make today's blog about anything other than this topic:

I'm summarizing but, in short, she felt she was too new to writing to be of use in a critique group. And now I'm concerned. How many other writers are out there feeling the same way?

Briefly -- my first critique group: We were all pretty much novice writers. A couple had been writing longer than I had, but this was our first attempt at critiquing in any kind of formal setting. On paper, when asked what we had to "offer" to the group, we had answers, but I don't think in hindsight any of us had any real idea exactly how to answer that question. Regardless, we worked together. We taught each other. We learned together. And we made it work. Writing schedules and life pulled the group apart eventually, but the group was strong.

Then I joined another critique group where I was the baby writer and yeah, that was a bit intimidating, but wowee, I learned a lot. And the gals never minded inputting. We were all shooting for the same goal, and dedicated to helping each other reach it. That one also broke apart due to scheduling.

Which brought me to my current critique group. It comprises writers from all over the spectrum. Two of us are agented and published, another is published, one writes YA, one writes more mainstream fiction, one writes women's fiction, and another two members are still learning the very basics of craft. And you know what? Everyone in the group has something to offer to the group and to each individual member.

So do you critique, or don't you?

But, Claire, what about how intimidating that is?

You know, you're absolutely right. Offering up your work to a group of strangers is scary. They are going to dissect it. They might tear it into shreds and blow holes in your wonderful story you're so proud of. But if you're afraid to have a group of your peers analyze your work and guide you, submitting a work to an editor or an agent is even more terrifying. And if you sell, now your work is going to be reviewed by the real critics -- readers. Readers aren't going to reject work with a form letter. If they don't like it, they are going to say why. And if you haven't taken a beating from a group of people you can depend on, a group of people who you know support you, a negative review is going to be crushing.

There really is no "right time" to join a critique group. The benefits are too many to name, but here's a few:

1. You get an opportunity to read and study craft with people possibly more experienced than yourself. You get to hear critiques on *their* work and learn from more or less observation.

2. If your critique partners are more experienced than yourself, the feedback you receive is likely going to be invaluable.

3. You now also have a support network that is trained to help you succeed.

4. If you and your partners are on equal experience levels, now you have folks sharing messages like, "Hey look what I read on this link!"

5. If you happen to be the more experienced individual in your critique group, teaching craft is a phenomenal way to learn craft.

I want to repeat number three -- You now have a support network.

We all have friends and family that cheer us on. How many of them have any idea what the genre you're writing in requires? How many of them honestly know how it feels to have your guts ripped out when you get a rejection letter from your dream agent/editor? How many loved ones can relate to the voices in your head that won't shut up, and the frustration of suddenly hitting a block while knowing you have to write?

When you succeed or suffer a set back, your loved ones are going to celebrate with you because they understand how important it is to you. But, unless they are writers, they don't share the same connection to those setbacks or successes.

Sometimes we all need someone to pick us up. Sometimes we need to rant about how Agentxyz is too stupid to live. Sometimes we need someone to kick our butt and make us write. Sometimes we need someone who understands GMC to help us brainstorm a plot issue.

All these and more serve as benefits for critique groups. It is a group of people who share the same dream you do, who are working with you to achieve those dreams, and who can *feel* those dreams on the same level you do.

It isn't a competition. I met my best friend in my first critique group. In my second critique group I met my other best friend. These are women who've moved beyond the conversation of "Hey, I'm having trouble with my hero's motivation" and have now become "Wanna go to a movie? I'm bored." Sure, we still talk craft a heck of a lot but after two years of exposing our most intimate creations (our stories written from our hearts) we have inseverable bonds.

So... any writer who thinks you have nothing to offer a critique group, or that it's too intimidating to join one, get over it. Get out there, ask around, find a group of folks you're comfortable working with. Muddle through the rough spots. You do have something to offer -- maybe it's just that you know when to use affect versus effect but you still have something to offer. And the more you are exposed to the feedback, the more you will have to give back.

Everyone starts somewhere. Start now. When you go to submit, you'll need it. Be that to share a bottle of champagne with, or a shoulder to cry on.



1 Response so far.

  1. If you think about it, a totally inexperienced writer would make an invaluable critique partner. They don't know the "rules" so they'll read you story like any other reader would and would probably help you a lot more on major plot problems because they're not reading it line by line or word by word, checking to see if you really need that "THAT" or "WAS" there.

    Every critque partner I've had has offered something different buy equally wonderful. Everyone comes from a their own unique walk of life and can share their new perceptive with you as they read your story.

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