Random Thoughts: Writer’s Toolbox: Critique Groups

So, I thought it might be good to take a break from the writers and self-sabotage theme for a bit and talk about things that can be useful to writers. Or at least things that have proven to be useful to me, as a writer.

One thing that I have found beneficial is critique groups. I’ve heard horror stories about different critique groups and some writers I know have sworn off this method of receiving feedback because they haven’t found it useful, preferring one on one work exchanges. (The lesson there is that no matter how an author does this, it is always beneficial to have eyes other than your own on the work.) I think I’ve been lucky in terms of finding a good critique group to work with.

One of the first criteria in joining or forming a critique group that will yield productive results is discerning whether the group is geared for writers whose goal is publication or for writers who are hobbyists. If your goals and the rest of the groups’ goals don’t match this can lead to a lot of problems immediately. The good news here is that this is easy to identify. If your goal is publication and you are expecting the group to be focused on giving and receiving critique, but the group is more interested in simply heaping praise on each other’s work or conversely offering snark for the sake of snark, or even worse, for the goal-oriented writer, just kvetching for an hour and a half about things having very little to do with writing, then that group is probably a bad match.

Writer’s groups that are there for the sake of being social are good but for different reasons. (Which I’ll maybe do a post on some other time.) Sometimes these social groups masquerade as critique groups so before you make a commitment to one, check that your goals and the group’s goals are aligned. For this reason, I don’t advise joining groups that are open to the public that don’t have criteria for joining. Sometimes local libraries will have information about writing groups, also bookstores and coffee shops are good places to look.

If you are new to critique, one of the things I suggest is that before presenting work to a group (or even one person whose opinion you trust) is that you wait until the first draft is complete, regardless of length. I say this because it is easy to allow the story you set out to tell to get sidetracked or turned in a different direction due to feedback. This is not a hard and fast rule for everyone but make sure the piece is ready for feedback before you subject yourself to it.

Making sure the piece is ready is pretty straight-forward. Any problems you can identify and fix before someone else is required to spend time with it should be done, and that includes everything from spelling errors to story problems. Sometimes you can identify a problem on your own, but can’t get a handle on how to fix it, sometimes you know something in the story isn’t working but can’t put a finger on why. This is where critique is useful  It can help to have a list of specific question that you want feedback on when this is the case. That list of questions can help you to get more out of critique.

One of the biggest benefits of critique is that identifying problems in the work of others helps you to identify issues in your own work more easily. This all serves to strengthen your own skills. In a well-aligned group that means everyone gets to elevate their own craft together, which is the ideal outcome.



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