Paving the Streets with Gold

I had a wonderful weekend, filled with writing and writing-related activities. Especially important to me was the critique group session. Do you belong to a critique group? Let me tell you from personal experience that you should.

A good critique group can be an invaluable asset. Members can tell you when your meaning is coming through, or where they’re confused, of if the whole thing is a mess. Or–holy cow!–if it’s all good! It saves you time, worry and stress, wondering “What the heck is wrong with this darn draft?” Trust me, they’ll tell you what’s wrong. And just as important, what’s right, so you don’t mess that up trying to fix the story. Crit groups can speed your way to publication (or in my case, to personal rejections instead of form ones 😉

Try to find a local one, if you can. It’s worth a drive to access a good one, too, so don’t be put off by that. There’s nothing better than everyone sitting around a table, critiquing a piece and coming together over the experience. Talking shop, ‘insider’ jokes–for a solitary writer, someone who’s always working alone, this is gold, folks. It says: You belong here.

People may disagree considerably about what works or doesn’t, and that can be confusing to a beginning writer (or even a midway writer), but it’s part of the process. If you’re new to critiquing, expect to be confused for a bit. As you grow, you’ll come to understand that different people bring different eyes and expectations to the table. They’ll see things differently. It’s your job to listen to them all, sort the advice and make sense of it in your own way, then use that advice to improve your work.

Yeah, that sounds…mysterious. But so is writing, in a way. (Where did you get that idea?)

What I mean is that if one person says, “I’m confused here” you take note and consider if that person is always confused when that subject comes up, or if the style you’re writing in just isn’t his or her thing, or whatever. Maybe it’s a valid crit (to you), maybe not. But if everyone there says “I’m confused here,” you darn well know you’d better fix it!

Sometimes you’ll get advice on how to fix it, sometimes not. Sometimes you’ll take that advice on how, other times you’ll do your own thing to fix it. After all, it’s your story. When you’re done, submit the story to the group again, asking, “Is this better or worse?” Yes, I’ve managed to make a story worse after a critique–but then the second fix made it SO much better, since I understood better what I’d done wrong the first time as well as the second. Other times, the advice I got the first time was so perfect, so clarifying that I smacked my forehead, said “Duh!” and shook the second draft right into place!

It’s a painful process to sit and listen to people talk about your story. Realize it’s not about you; it’s about the story. They’re critiquing the merits of your work, not of you as a person, or as a writer. And you should do the same for them, critiquing the other stories with care and a thought for the author’s feelings.

How do you find a critique group? Search your city or town’s name and ‘writing group’ or ‘writers group’ or ‘writing critique.’ Ask your reference librarian for help. If there’s a college or university nearby, look there for one. Finally, try an online group if nothing is near. There are many, in different genres and at different levels of experience for writers. The ‘problem’ with online groups is that you don’t know the experience level of those critiquing you. Look up the bio of those who offer you critiques for help in this. Sometimes you’ll find you’ll get a bonus: the person who critiqued your work is at a much higher level than your own! That’s a real gem, something that a group of your peers might not offer.

If you belong to a crit group, how do you like it? How has it helped you? What advice can you offer to someone looking to join one?

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About M.E. Garber

I'm an itinerant Ohio-born speculative fiction writer now living in north central Florida.
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7 Responses to Paving the Streets with Gold

  1. fossilist says:

    I envy you. I haven’t had any luck finding a good writing group locally. I use the Online Writing Workshop and find it to be quite useful. As you mention, the experience level varies widely, but there are enough good writers (and a handful of *very* good ones) that make it worthwhile.

    One of the benefits of Odyssey that I’m most looking forward to is getting into their critique circles upon graduation and also getting into the Codex Writers’ Group (graduation from Odyssey will automatically qualify me for admittance).

    Like

    • Mary says:

      Ooh, yeah. I’d love to be able to join Codex. I love my local group, but that’s once a month — if I get a story in before the slots fill up. And I always have more…

      Odyssey is coming up soon. Feeling excited? Ready?

      Like

  2. Puss in Boots says:

    I’m in two groups here in town. One is invite-only and comprised of advanced writers. The other is open to everyone and mostly attracts newer writers. I find there are benefits to attending each one, and since that’s only five meetings per month, I can usually make it to all of them.

    I’ve had all kinds of important discoveries from critique groups, but at this point I think I find it most valuable to have a cadre of brainstormers willing to help me solve problems that are blocking me from progress. If you ask your friends to solve a problem, they are probably similar enough to you that they will attempt to solve it the same way–you share a microculture, and it affects your problem-solving abilities. But if your methods have failed, bringing the problem to other writers means a diverse crowd who mostly have only one thing in common, and therefore, their microcultures and problem-solving methods are disparate and can form new perspectives. They don’t always solve my problems for me, but they really start my brain looking in directions I didn’t previously explore. I love my crit groups!

    Like

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