Another resurrected post that all writers should read... especially those who think they are beyond needing a critique of their finest writing. We all benefit from good critique, no matter how old or oft-published. (Last published July 3, 2009. See tomorrow for Part 2.)
Critique Groups: Gotta love 'em. Learn to see your writing with a reader’s eye, identify your bad habits, and polish your manuscript before you submit to agents and editors. It’s hard at first, often scary. It could even be akin to your first bungee jump. Getting your work critiqued probably won’t kill you, but it could turn you into a writer worthy of publication. Honest.
Alex Sokoloff said it here on June 10th in Top Ten Things I Know About Editing: “Find a great critique group.” In a discussion between author Sylvia Dickey Smith and editor Helen Ginger, Helen advises, “…join a critique group in your area or online – you’ll get help, you’ll help others, and you’ll learn how to edit and critique.” Author, reviewer, and blogger Charlotte Phillips wrote in February, “I recently joined a critique group for the first time ever and must admit, I am enjoying every bit of it. I wish I’d gotten up the nerve many years ago.”
One of the best ways to hone self-editing skills is to meet regularly with other writers and critique their work. Timid souls who might be overwhelmed by larger groups may do best with one critique partner. Unstructured clubs that meet once in a while are useful for hermit-writers who need occasional feedback. Online critique sessions, or meetings via Skype, are helpful if local groups are not available. For most beginning writers, a face-to-face group with established rules and guidelines boosts commitment and productivity.
To find an existing group, take a writing class, post notices at the library, attend a nearby writers’ conference, or contact local or regional writing organizations in your state. If that doesn’t work, start your own.
Based on my experiences with critique groups, I believe they function best when all of the members are writing the same kind of material: fiction and/or memoir, non-fiction books, or essays and magazine articles. Mixing fiction categories within a fiction group can be constructive if members are open to learning about genres they don’t often read on their own. The groups I’m organizing for Northern Colorado Writers follow these guidelines:
1. Critique groups contain six to eight members and meet every other week.
2. Meetings last approximately two hours.
3. Members commit to regular attendance, barring emergencies.
4. A member who cannot attend a meeting still critiques submissions and delivers or sends them to the critiqued members.
The purpose of a critique group is to help members improve their writing skills through revisions and competent self-editing, guide other members toward publication, and provide encouragement and motivation along the way. The critiques need to be honest, but must be respectful and supportive, whether written or verbal. Members understand that critiques are from/to their peers. Comments about story line, voice, and characterization are observations or suggestions. The decision whether or not to implement these suggestions belongs to the author.
In the next Self-Editing One Step at a Time post, I’ll recommend procedures for submitting materials for review and techniques for written and verbal critiques.
Patricia Stoltey is a mystery author, blogger, and critique group facilitator. Active in promoting Colorado authors, she also helps local unpublished writers learn the critical skills of manuscript revisions and self-editing. For information about Patricia’s Sylvia and Willie mystery series, visit her website and her blog. You can also find her on Facebook (Patricia Stoltey) and Twitter (@PStoltey).