Any book or post on the craft of writing worth its salt will tell you to find a writers group to be a part of if you want to be a serious writer. Most recommend critique groups in particular, which are small groups of writers that read each other’s works and provide feedback in regular meetings either on- or off-line. When I was a novice writer, I spurned this advice, worried that others writers would either laugh at or steal my words. I have learned over the years, though, how truly helpful a critique group can be, and highly recommend them to other writers.
Indeed, Beth Revis, author of Across the Universe and one of my favorite writers, said, in her Paper Hearts Workbook: “Writing is often lonely, but revising rarely is; critique partners…can bring your work to the next level.” One wonders how? What is it about feedback from a group of strangers that can take your writing to the next level? Let me tell you why critique groups are such a good idea:
- They can spot glaring inconsistencies and holes. What’s better, though, is to cultivate friendships with fellow writers that you’ve met in real life at least once, and get feedback from them. What’s ideal is to form a group of several writers in the genre you write in who are all friends. One of my critique groups has followed one of my books through a couple of revisions. They’re familiar with the story and want to help it and me reach our full potentials. No matter how many times you edit and revise your own work, critique group members will have a better, more removed perspective on your book, and, if they’re good critiquers, will be able to catch the vision you have for your book and help you envision specific techniques to use and ways to get there.
- A critique group member will read your book bit-by-bit, chapter-by-chapter perhaps, until he or she has read the whole thing. If you’re in the process of writing or revising a book, this is wonderful and much preferable to having a beta reader read your whole manuscript once it’s done because critique group members can help you hone the conflict, develop your voice, and strengthen the plot as you write, which is better than having to scrap tens of thousands of sub-optimal work once you’re finished.
- If you’re at the point where you want to set word-count or other goals, it makes a difference if you have someone to tell whether or not you reach those goals. They are accountability partners.
- As with almost everything else, networking improves your chances of success.
My Critique Group Experience
I didn’t start looking for a good critique group until about a year and a half ago, even though I’ve been writing full-length fiction in earnest for five years and have three finished manuscripts under my belt. I joined a writers group four or five years ago, but it was hard to find a core group of writers that came consistently to the twice-monthly critique meetings and understood the tropes of my genre. Through that writers group, though, I learned of a local writers’ conference called Storymakers. I started attending that every year and joined its Facebook group, which is where I met the wonderful women who would become the members of what I call my “Highland critique group.” They’re now helping me go through Forced with a fine tooth comb, which I’m loving. That book was the first one I ever wrote. It’s been through six drafts, and queried 51 times. I was wondering if I should give up on it, but couldn’t quite let it go. I’d read similar published books and think “my book has elements of this” or chatted with agents on Twitter whose #manuscriptwishlist matched Forced almost exactly. It’s getting so much stronger as I go through it a sixth time with that group.
My other critique group, one that meets weekly on-line, is helping me tweak Stranger In My Own Head. I met them one of the members of that group in the writers group I joined years ago, and another at a recent conference I went to for writers of science fiction and fantasy, called Futurescapes.
Where Can You Find Good Critique Groups?
Chuck Sambochino of Writers’ Digest suggests:
- Go where other writers go. Join a professional writing organization such as SCBWI.
- Attend retreats and conferences.
- Browse book festivals.
- Hang out at bookstores.
- post a notice on the bulletin board or website of your local library
- search for critique groups by genre or location in Facebook
- search for critique groups by genre in Reddit
If you’re part of a critique group, how did you find it? What do you think about critique groups?