One of the most wonderful things you can have as a writer is an authentic group of other writers—a group that has different personalities, different writing styles, different ages, BUT all with the same goal in mind: to help each other WRITE BETTER.
In other words—A Critique Group.
You may be wondering how that is ever possible to find? Believe me, I hear ya. Having been in more groups than I can remember. But it is possible, and one of the best ways to do it is to start one yourself. It might take a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of searching for the “right” peeps, but it is well worth it.
So… how do you go about forming a critique group?
First – it’s important to surround yourself with other writers. REAL writers: i.e. people who are diligently learning the craft, or people who are published (and still diligently learning the craft). Your mother—for instance—would probably not be the best choice for a critique partner… (Oh wait a second… I am Kayla’s mother and we’re in a crit group together…) so let me expound on that point—your mother wouldn’t be the best crit partner UNLESS she is a writer studying the craft of writing as well. (And of course, she can’t tell you that everything you write is totally-brilliant-and-doesn’t-need-any-editing-ever-because-you-are-the-most-amazing-writer-ever!!!!!!) It just doesn’t work.
But I’ll be honest, because Kayla has been working at this from such a young age and is so incredibly gifted, there are times it’s tough! I’ll read something she wrote and say, “Wow. That’s so stinkin’ impressive.” But we still critique each other’s work. And I’ll freely admit – Kayla is one of the best critique partners I’ve worked with. She’s tough on me. Points out stuff I would never catch or even think about. And her perspective? Priceless.
So yes, an occasional family member might work in your group <smile> – but only if you are both focused on the craft and you are willing to challenge each other to be better.
Same goes for other critique partners. Personally, I like the small group size. We have four in our group that have been together for many years. Becca, Darcie, Kayla, and me.
Second – you need to trust these people. And I mean TRUST. You know that they would be there for you in an instant for a life crisis—(for instance: when I had to have my gall-bladder removed in an emergency, Becca drove like twelve hours to come stay with me—knowing full well I wouldn’t be able to drive or do much of anything for the first couple weeks. Or when Darcie had her Frankenknee surgery and couldn’t put any weight at all on her leg for almost twelve weeks, I think? I took trips up to where they lived with boxes of food and frozen meals for her and her family.)—and not just a life crisis, you know that you could trust them to be there for you to rejoice when something great happens, and also to help pick you up when there’s a rejection or some other loss.
Now, I know there are people in critique groups that don’t know each other all that well. They like it that way. They are perfectly comfortable just slicing and dicing each other’s work.
Kudos to them.
But my advice here? If you want a real trusting relationship—one where you know that the other person is slicing and dicing because they LOVE you and they want you to succeed (even more than themselves!) then you need to invest in the person. Not just the writing. It takes time. It takes work. But those relationships will reap far greater rewards—and your critique group will be that much stronger.
It’s definitely one of those situations where you get back what you’ve put into it. So how much are you willing to give?
Third – never and I mean NEVER stop learning. No matter how many books you have under your belt, or how many different publishers and editors you’ve worked with, or even if your agent thinks you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread… You have to keep studying the craft.
Always. You’ll never understand it all. You’ll never have it mastered. Never.
Sorry to burst your bubble. That’s another reason WHY critique groups are so important. Different people have different strengths. They learn differently too. Some might be great at grammar and punctuation, some might be great at the big picture, some might be great at the finite details, the characters, the plot, and on and on—you need all of that.
In fact, a new facet to our critique group (great idea, Becca!!!!) is that we are going to start studying craft books together and discussing them. We’ve all read oodles of them on our own and shared things we liked/learned, but this is another way for us to grow and take it to the next level. And remember, we weren’t all great and best-selling authors when we came together. But every one of us is multi-published now. Which is pretty stinking impressive.
So – to recap:
First – find other true writers—people studying the craft of writing persistently.
Second – work to build those relationship and trust.
Third – never stop learning.
Be sure to check out Darcie’s post – lesson #58 – Crit Groups: What Are They For? And Becca’s post coming up – lesson #60 – on the guts and rules of making a crit group work!
With Pen to Paper,