Stop Writin’ Solo: Why You Should Have a Critique Group

Group photo of people working on a shipWhen you hear the word “critique,” the next word that probably comes to mind is “criticism” (“constructive” not even a close second). Am I right?

 I get it—no matter what the field, being critiqued in any capacity exposes your vulnerability. But with all the grammar rules, generic conventions, and heaps of writing techniques out there, a critique group is going to be your secret writing weapon—I promise!

 I spent a year writing my book alone, cherishing ever word, every sentence, and every little world-building concept I conjured. My close family members were the only people I allowed to read my work, more as a way of holding myself accountable than for real advice. 

 Even after attending a writer’s conference and hearing again and again about critique groups, I was hesitant to share my work. But the thing was, my manuscript had problems. I’d already rewritten it once, and in both drafts, I hadn’t been able to bring myself to write the ending. Something wasn’t working, and I didn’t want to admit it.

 If not for an author whom I met at the conference, I’d still be guarding my writing and sending it over email to my mom, password protected. When the author found out I didn’t have a critique group, she introduced me to two people that she thought I’d get along with who were both writing in my genre. Perhaps it’s because we all trusted her that we immediately decided to trust each other. We started an email chain the next day, and the rest is history.

 My writing has improved immensely; my stories are more coherent, and my characters more four-dimensional. I’m better at discerning the problems in my own work, and never have writer’s block for longer than a week because I can use our weekly meetings for brainstorming instead of critiquing.

 This isn’t to say you should give your work to just anyone. Here are some tips for finding a critique group that’s a good fit:

 1.      Attend a writer’s conference or local writing event to scout some potential group members. Or peruse an online writing forum and post a thread seeking interested individuals.

2.      Get to know your group members before sending them any of your writing.

3.      Ensure they are in a similar stage of writing as you (and genre, if possible).

4.      Ensure they want to help you, and not just get help for themselves.

5.      Ensure they can commit to set meeting days and times (except holidays or crazy work weeks). 

6.      Ensure they are motivated and have goals they wish to meet for their own work.

7.      Find between two and six other group members. If you only find one person, you’re delayed for a week or longer when they’re busy. With more than six people, you won’t be able to give the proper attention to each submission.

 Once you find your group, it’s time to start critiquing! Here’s how:

 1.      Decide how often you’ll meet: once a week, bi-weekly, or once a month.

2.      Decide where you’ll meet, whether in person, over the phone, or via internet communication, like Skype.

3.      Submit via email attachment, at least a day in advance of your meeting.

4.      Start by submitting outlines so each member can get acquainted with the others’ stories. Then submit chapters, select pages, or plot brainstorms.

5.      Submit as often as you can so it becomes part of your routine.

6.      You can have a standing rotation to determine who goes first, second, etc., or you can go in order of who submitted first.

Don’t get discouraged if your first attempt at assembling a critique group doesn’t work out. Try approaching this like dating—there might be a few bad ones before you find “the one(s)” who will help take your writing to the next level!

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