Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My First Critique Group

If you’ve attended writing conferences or chatted with fellow writers, you probably have heard this statement many times: 

“One of the best things you can do for your writing career is to get into a good critique group.” 

I have.  But fear and doubt prevented me from taking that step.  I feared being criticized and I doubted my ability to critique other people’s work.  I felt I wasn’t qualified to offer feedback when clearly I was the one who needed the help.

Well, after much hesitation, I joined my first critique group.  And you know what?  I’m enjoying it.  The members of my group are so kind, caring, considerate, and thoughtful.  That’s what critique groups are for- to offer encouragement and support, right? (SCREECH….record breaking in background).  Okay, that’s just the half of it.  The other half is to offer honest feedback…to help us grow as writers, of course.

Anyway, I learned quickly that critiquing is not criticism, it’s offering constructive criticism.  And it was not constructive criticism I feared.  It was just ‘criticism.”  There is a difference between the two.  Criticism is defined as “a critical judgment passed or expressed” or “a disapproval expressed by pointing out faults or shortcomings.”  Whereas, constructive criticism is defined as “criticism or advice that is useful and intended to help or improve something, often with an offer of possible solutions.”  Polite and helpful are the key difference.  This I can handle.  After all, we cannot experience growth if we don’t make ourselves vulnerable to criticism.

For those of you who are on the fence about joining a critique group, just do it!  I’m glad I did.  I’m in my first month of critique and already I am learning a lot.  It is a beneficial experience to the growth of any writer.  It’s obvious what you can gain by being in a group.  Having others read your story gives you a fresh or unique insight.  But what I didn’t know was the amount of experience that I’d gain from critiquing other people’s manuscripts.  Critiquing taught me a great deal of what makes a good story. 

Here are some of the thoughts you may have encountered:

“I’m not sure I can commit to a group”

You can choose the group you want to join based on your availability.  If you are forming a new group, you can decide as a group how often you’d like to meet.

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to offer good feedback” or “I don’t feel qualified to critique”

If you read and write, which you already do, then your experience as a “real” reader is valuable.  You’ll find that you have a natural ability to see what works and what doesn’t work in a story.  And besides, it’s as if the writer is getting feedback from a customer before their book goes public.  That’s like getting a free review!

“I’m afraid of what they’ll say about my story”

Better to hear it from fellow writers who are in the same situation as you are than from a publisher.  This way, you can polish your story before it reaches the desk of the publisher.

“What if I don’t like my group?”

If you feel you’ve given the group a chance and things aren’t working out the way want it to, you can always find another group that fits your needs and personality.

So, give a critique group a try.  It’s been so rewarding for me.  After editing my own stories over and oVer and ober and over again, I start to miss the obvious mistakes.  Critiquing others and being critiqued helped me look at my own writing in a different way.  It ignited a new excitement and enthusiasm for (re)editing my stories. 

Join a critique group today.  I’m glad I did!

Below is a great resource on group critique etiquette by Linda Sue Park
The Give and Take of Critique

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