Good writing is not accomplished in a vacuum. If it were, there would be no need for editors. However, before a writer ever reaches the professional editing stage, there is a need for objective and educated eyes. This person is not a doting mother or smitten lover, not when seeking worthwhile feedback.
Why A Critique Group?
A group of strong, critical readers can help a writer polish a work that writer may have deemed “finished.” They can ferret out clichés and purple prose almost as fast as you can hit “delete.” They can also find the gems a writer missed, such as opportunities for themes and character development. Best if all, a good critique group bolsters a writer’s resolve.
These are people who understand the process of writing. Also, they are not in love with your story, not the way you are. That amazing scene and stunning dialogue that rivals any on the bestseller list will be picked over and its true impact revealed. Storylines of stellar quality (or so you thought) come apart, the bare bones exposed.
Thick skins develop through hard use. Ask anyone who has published and it’s likely they can offer stories of rejection after rejection. Some might qualify for extreme dental work after years of gritting their teeth. It’s a phenomenon that occurs after reading harsh criticism of what some consider their best work. Critique groups help prepare a writer for the mowing over they’re likely to receive from editors, agents, or publishers – perhaps all three.
Look For An Educated Group
An educated writer knows how to spot important writing errors. They understand what a gerund is, what is meant by protagonist, and why organization matters. For them, genre is not a foreign word.
This is not to imply a group is useless unless all members have literature degrees or have published. But the writers in a critique group should, at the very least, be critical readers. Better still if they show a strong grasp of writing principals.
Finding out if a group is educated may mean asking a few questions. Find out if anyone is published, and where. Ask what people in the group read, or can recommend. The answers to this question can be very telling. Ask if an auditing visit to the group is acceptable.
Location, Location, Location
Writing groups are of no use if members can’t reach them. While it may not be necessary to meet with a group every week, once a month should be the minimum for most writers. If the group is online, this poses no problem. However, an online critique means the author has less personal stake in being honest and genuinely helpful. It’s just harder to be obnoxious with someone seen in person, on a regular basis. There are exceptions, of course.
If the group meets face to face, good luck. Finding several writers of the same genre, available for a critique group, all in the same area, may prove difficult. Searching for online critiques may remedy this problem, but that sacrifices the face to face honesty of an up close and personal assessment.
With this in mind, is it really necessary that your group members have personal knowledge of each of Stephen King’s works? Must they be Tolkien fanatics? In reality, good writing shines, regardless of genre. Genre specific groups are a great resource, but there is something to be said for feedback from those outside your genre.
There’s another benefit of a mixed genre group. Everyone has the opportunity to expand their reading experience. A little mix and match of styles related to specific genres can lead to beautiful, fresh, and unique writing. Besides, how many writers can honestly say their work fits neatly and precisely into only one genre?
That said, there is benefit to a genre specific group. If romance is your choice, someone writing a mystery or a horror may not be familiar with the elements and flow of a romance novel. Keep this in mind while choosing a group.
How does the group interact? It’s possible to find an all-business group, one with little interest with social interaction. This may be what the writer is looking for. It does seem incompatible with the passion of good writers. Maintaining emotional detachment to those with whom a writer shares the work in progress seems unlikely. A group where bonds are not formed over time may not have a consistent core group of members. This often means inconsistency in quality.
Is there a great deal of bickering? Silences between members? If the group can’t manage at least civil interaction, critiques are unlikely to be useful. Be equally sure the group has not degenerated into a mere coffee klatch.
Best Places to Look
The local library bulletin board may have an offering. It may also pay to ask the librarian if they are aware of any writer’s groups in the area.
Book stores often host critique groups. It can’t hurt to ask.
The Internet is a great resource. Meetup.com may prove invaluable in finding a group, or even starting your own.
Writer’s working without good critical feedback talk to themselves. This is all well and good – if they’re writing a diary. For work intended to be read by others, especially those with no connection or affection for the writer, critical feedback is essential. Writer’s critique groups, when exceptional, provide technical support, moral support, contacts, resources, and perspective.