The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Critique Groups

So I thought I would end 2015 with a discussion on critique groups. It will be a new year in a couple weeks, and as you sit back to review this past year and plot out your next year’s writing adventures, you might want to consider joining a critique group.

If you are unfamiliar, a critique group is a bunch of serious writers sitting down on a regular basis to review each other’s work with the goal of helping each other become more successful. The group can be many or few, or two, but the purpose is to have regular readers who can give each other feedback on submitted pages so that each writer can revise scenes that are lackluster, or adjust character motivations, or fix plot holes, etc. Please note that SERIOUS is a key word. Being in a regular critique group is work. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

I’ve been in a few critique groups. I’ve also run a critique group or two. Note that not all critique groups are a good fit for all writers, and not all writers are a good fit for an established critique group. All people are unique; some work well together. Some don’t. Your job, whether you attend an established group or start your own, is to make sure that the other writers in the group are a good fit for you. If not, be polite, let them know you don’t feel it’s a good fit, and move on.

The benefit of being part of a critique group is manyfold.

You will get your pages done because you won’t want to go to group without any pages. Being a productive member of the group forces you to be a disciplined writer. If you are a flaky writer, you can’t be a flakey writer in a critique group. If you keep showing up without your pages you will probably get called out on it. If you continue to be a flaky writer, you could get booted from the group. These people are serious writers. Remember?

You will create amazing friendships.

Being in the group will get you out of the house. You can be isolated, and introverted to your heart’s content every single day, but once a week, or every other week, or whatever regular schedule your group meets, will force you to take a shower and get out of the house and talk to people. The group will stretch you as a person and as a writer in other ways you couldn’t have anticipated either.

You will become a better writer.

Realize that it may be frightening the first few times you put your pages out there to be critiqued by other writers. This is normal. These pages are a part of you. They are like your children, and you are sensitive, and criticism hurts, and what will all these people think, and, and…Remember that nothing is personal about the critique. If there are problems, the group is not critiquing YOU. They are critiquing the work with the goal of making it better. You will eventually grow a thicker skin, which you need if you publish (traditional or independent) because readers can be brutal, not to mention evil editors who send you rejection letters. Eventually you will trust the people in your critique group as you trust no one else. You will know that they have your best interests at heart and when two of them say they don’t understand what is happening on the page, you know you have work to do. You will become a better writer. I know I said that earlier but let me say it again. You will become a better writer.

Because the group is made up of serious writers, you know that when you ask for opinions or kick around story ideas, you will get opinions, or five, and they will be serious opinions. You will not hear that your idea is fine, or good like you would if you asked your mom to read your pages. Those kinds of niceties are not helpful. Instead, you will hear things like, “You need to figure out the motivation for your heroine because it doesn’t make sense that she would jump off that bridge. What if she has a passion for bungee jumping and had planned the jump in advance?” The discussions will prompt many writing ideas. Take notes. Those are gold.

There are also some cons involved with joining a critique group. You will probably have to leave your ego at home, or at least in the trunk of your car during group. Not everyone in the group will be at the same writing level. Some will be more advanced. Some will be newbies. Ideally, the group will have a mix of writing levels. You may have to be patient with other people when you don’t feel like it because you forgot to leave your ego in the trunk. I did mention stretching earlier, didn’t I? You may end up in a great group, but someone you truly love isn’t doing the work and you may have to ask them to leave. It will hurt. But you are a serious writer and you must make these kinds of decisions.

You will have to give up a few nights sitting in front of the TV because you have critiques to do plus pages to write.

You can create whatever Pro vs Con list you want. The bottom line is that if you get involved with a good critique group, you will become a better writer.

To find a critique group, look to local writing organizations, like Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers in Colorado, for example. Google “critique groups” or look on Meet-Up or Yahoo Groups for writers groups in your area. There are several online groups as well. Remember to be selective. You may have to visit several groups until you find a place you are comfortable. Be patient. Be professional. It will be worth  your time.

If you don’t find a group, consider starting your own group. I’ve put together a primmer you can download – Critique Group Suggestions

Until 2016.

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