I was lucky enough to be invited to join a small local critique group in December. Last week was the first chance I had to actually meet with them, and it was fabulous! Here’s why:
It’s important to have someone else validate your work. You know that your writing is important, and that you work hard at it. Unfortunately, people who don’t write have no way to truly understand this. So if you’re a blogger, meet with a few other bloggers. If you write fiction, meet with other people who write fiction. You don’t have to write the same genre or the same blogging niche to understand each other – sometimes it’s better if you don’t, because it can give you a bit more distance and perspective for your critique.
Meeting in person with a group keeps you accountable. If you haven’t written in a week why haven’t you written? Odds are there’s someone else in the group who is busier and more stressed than you are, and has still been writing. Meeting someone’s eyes and admitting you’ve been catching up on last season’s Downton Abbey instead of writing is completely different than doing so via email.
Fresh sets of eyes catch so many mistakes. One writer had submitted several pages, and only one of the other three of us caught a completely missing word that was essential to the sentence. Everyone else had just subconsciously added it as they read.
No one’s grammar or punctuation is perfect. I’m known for correcting my family’s grammar, but I throw around commas like confetti on New Year’s Eve. I just can’t help myself.
A good critique group won’t try to change your style of writing, they’ll just help polish it. They’ll point out awkward phrases, over-used words, and paragraph breaks in the wrong place.
You will take yourself more seriously. Don’t get me wrong, I’m writing this post in my jammies at 4:30 in the afternoon, but getting dressed, packing up my laptop, and meeting over frou-frou coffee once a week makes me more productive. It forces me to make my writing a priority.
If you’re home with small children most days, retired, or not working outside your home for whatever reason this is adult social interaction you need for your own mental health. I’ve always worked full-time, and nearly 100% of my social interaction was work-related in some way. After my third and fourth neurosurgery, when I was unable to return to work, it became way too easy to never leave the house. Heck, with a laptop and a good wifi connection I didn’t have to leave the bed! That’s not good for anyone, no matter what your health status. If you are physically able, get out there, even if it’s just once a month, somewhere nearby, for an hour.
Try something new. I’m starting a new book, and I’m going to run every stinkin’ page past my critique group so that hopefully it won’t need to be revised ten times before it’s worth reading. If you want to try a new genre, start a new meme – these are people who can help.
Constructive criticism is great, and I have made changes in every area that my critique partners mentioned this past week, because I agreed with them. This will not always be the case. If you don’t agree that something needs to be changed, don’t change it. It’s your writing when it comes right down to it. That said, if more than one person has the exact same criticism give it some weight – especially if you’re part of a small group.
I hope to be able to contribute enough to this group so they’ll want to keep me around for a long time, but not everyone is lucky enough to find the right critique group on the first try. If I started feeling attacked, if I thought one member was hogging the meeting time every time, or if being late and unprepared was the rule rather than the exception I’d look elsewhere. Go with your gut. If you’re looking forward to the meetings it’s probably a good fit (as long as you’re getting something accomplished, not just socializing). If you find yourself dreading critique day it’s time to move on.
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