3 Reasons Critique Groups Rock

Okay. There are more than three reasons for writers to take advantage of a critique group.  However, knowing my propensity for writing epics,  I thought I might present this topic in digestible pieces.

1. A safe space for honest constructive feedback.

Like most writers starting out, I sought the opinion of those closest to me about my stories. I soon found out that this did not produce the feedback I needed.  Since my sensibilities tend to go towards the dark and gritty frame of reference and trying to find poetry in it, the immediate family did not get what I was going for in the beginning. My writing was very raw. 

As I became serious about my craft, I joined a local writing organization.  It put together critique groups. These are writers who come together and share their work.  It is a place where you give and receive objective feedback.  It sounds great but in reality, that prospect can be terrifying.  It was for me at any rate. I signed up for meetings and canceled many times before  I got up the nerve to just go. Once there, reading my pages to the group…well, it’s difficult to explain how vulnerable and exposed I felt my first few times reading.

Luckily, I had landed in a safe place. And though my work was raw and underdeveloped, my group provided constructive criticism and more importantly they found merit in my work and offered encouragement. I have no doubt that my writing became richer and my storytelling grew more cogent by working with critique groups.

I  stumbled into the good fortune of finding a safe place to present my work with critique groups sponsored by the Houston Writer’s Guild.  However, to other writers just starting out or writers who are looking to critique groups for feedback for the first time,  it is important to find a  critique group that has established ground rules that create a safe space for you to share your work and receive constructive criticism.

2.  Reality check – if more than one member is picking up on something that is not working then you have to consider that fantastic sentence or scene has issues.

As writers, I think we have all be in a place where we are struck by inspiration which drives us to get those ideas and images in our head out into the world. We write and toil over finding the right words and put them together so that we can share this incredible vision, your masterpiece.

Then we take it to critique group. As we go around the table each person finds the same issue. But they just don’t get it! you think. So, you try to explain your story adding details not seen on the pages. Still, the fact remains that there is something on the page that is not working. If more than one member of the group picks up on it,  there may be a problem with your perception of your vision. 

It’s difficult to resist this urge to defend your work, to add details that are not on the page, or clarifying that which is not clear. If you have to do this, then there’s a problem. I know how much it hurts. I’ve written beautiful scenes I’ve spent weeks researching only to present it to group and find key information missing or a turn of phrase is confusing or doesn’t fit.  It’s painful. I still go into denial but after I let the writing sit a couple of days or weeks, and look at my pages with fresh eyes and those comments still echoing in my head, I can see the issues that everyone else saw. Once I fixed the issues,  the scene turned out better than I could have thought. That’s how I became a better writer.

 So,  if members find any issues with your masterfully written work, it’s best to receive the criticism, whether you agree with it or not, quietly. Digest what was said, go through the five stages of grief, then go back to your work and fix the issue.

3.  Accountability

I’ve wanted to be a writer since before I knew I wanted to write.  Daydreaming was my favorite pastime.  It still is, to tell the truth. Progenie was a daydream at first, one which became so powerful I had to write it down. Though I imagine the story, watching the characters interact in my head, and hearing my characters’ conversations, I only wrote the words when the voices and images became so loud, the only way to get them out of my head was to write them down. 

In that way, my story came in spurts every few months or every year or two. It was slow going. Then I join a critique group that required ten pages each week. Being responsible for submitting content for feedback, made me determined rather than compulsive about producing pages.  I found time each day to write out my scene longhand. On the weekend, I typed up my story and smoothed over the rough edges. The day before I went over my pages again. This became my rhythm for everything I write.

You will notice while reading Progenie, the scenes are roughly ten pages, times new roman, 12pt. double-spaced on 8.5X11 paper. That’s how I got through the book and all the other books I’ve written.  I wrote a scene at a time so that I could meet regularly with my critique groups with a page count

Stay tuned…

Next issue of  Mack’s Little Newsletter we’ll talk about more reasons Critique groups are awesome.

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