Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Why Critique Groups Rock

So, you're an aspiring writer and have accomplished the amazing task of actually finishing a novel. Chances are you either patted yourself on the back or went shrieking through the streets proclaiming that you're a novelist (depending on your personality). However, then the moment comes that you sit back and think "Now what?" Well, here's what I think a fabulous next step should be - before spamming the entire publishing community with the genius that is your manuscript. Join a critique group. "Why?" you might ask as defensive thoughts flood your mind. "My book is brilliant, I don't want outside influences muting my 'voice', I don't want anyone stealing my never-been-thought of-in-the-history-of-time idea about space monkeys and their quest for the perfect banana..."

Here's why. If you find a GOOD critique group, be it online or in person (and there are pros and cons of each), they can do the following:

1) They are objective about your work. Well, at least more so than you. It can be extremely difficult to be objective about your own work. For instance, those of you with kids, how many of you think your child is not the cutest/most brilliant/talented example of small humanity out there. When you're attached to something - and after working on a novel for 6 months or 6 years, who isn't - it's difficult to step back and see where you might need help. Your critique group has that distance and can often point out problem areas much more easily.

2) They make you a better writer. Yes, really. No matter how great you think you are - and you might be great - you can get even better with the help of a good group. Writing in different POV's, characterization, story arc and use of dialogue are just a few examples of how the group can push you to do your best. They also can help point out your individual writing quirks - be it overuse of a certain word or the dreaded telling rather than showing. Also, critiquing the work of others in your group also makes you a better writer.

3) They encourage and support you. And not in a Paula Abdul, smoke up your ass kind of way. We share our ups and downs and have a "we're all in this together" mentality. Writing can be a tough and solitary experience, so it's nice having a built-in support group. When someone gets good news, it's so much fun to celebrate as a group and gives hope and motivation to the others. Plus, it's fun going to conferences where I actually know people there.

4) They serve as a collective barometer for your work. After getting a bunch of feedback from different personalities, part of your job is to decide which changes to incorporate and which don't serve your story. One of the best things about group feedback is you know there's a legitimate problem when more than one person points out the same issue with something in your story. For instance, I had multiple people tell me a line in my first chapter was funny but that the reference would be outdated by the time the book was published - so I changed it. On the flip side, when you have multiple people give you compliments on the same thing, you know it's well-earned and not the smoke up the ass thing.

5) They are a wealth of resources. I feel fortunate to be part of two wonderful critique groups and everyone has information that is shared with the group. Some of the published authors in my one group share information about publishing houses and editors that they like. Just this week, one woman in my group sent me a list of agents she thought would be a good fit for my book after reading my query. I've learned so much about the business end of things from my critique groups and it's been invaluable information.

As you can guess, I LOVE my critique groups. They consist of amazing, talented, persistent women who love writing as much as I do. So there you have my top 5 reasons to be in such a group. If you're in a group that doesn't have these 5 elements and feels more negative in nature, then maybe it's time to look for another group. NOTE: I found both of mine through SCBWI.

So, what have I missed? What are your favorite things about being in a critique group?


  1. I could not agree more, Kristi. Having you and Val and Lisa has helped shape my technique, helped me figure out my negative quirks, and given me hope that I really can do this with time and patience. Every writer should have at least one person they can trust to objectively view their work.

    Being in a group, be it two people or ten, takes commitment. Like any relationship, it's a give and take but both giving and taking help make you a better writer.

  2. This is by far the truest list ever! I have a live group I adore for all these reasons. I also have an online group I can trust for anything and everything. There is nothing better than good crit partners.

  3. When you have an online critique group, such as our lovely Black Quill, you and your partners can share invaluable information gathered from conferences across the country.

  4. Yeah - I love that you share all your New York info with us Lacey!

  5. And you're next, Kristi! :) SCBWI really does have its benefits, folks.

  6. I like how every writer's group is different. I'm in two writer's groups--one where shorter works/bursts are the focus and another where you're challenged to hand in at least 50 pages a month.

    The best thing about a writer's group, I think, is that there are other writers who know you and, knowing what you're capable of, can challenge you to grow.

  7. So what's a good critique group to join? I have a manuscript that I'd love to get some more insight on, and I'd love to help other people, as well.

  8. Gah! I just typed out this lengthy reply to you, Linda, but I did so from my cell phone and it disappeared...

    What I was saying is that only you can determine what group is best for you. Kristi (author of this post) Valerie, Lisa and myself came together through the SCBWI discussion boards. Another great place to start, and it's free, are the blue boards at verlakay.com I have also seen ning website dedicated to new writers, as well as some groups on Linked in and Facebook.
    I suggest you start at one of those places. Find people with similar tastes and styles to your own, establish a connection and go from there.
    Good luck!

  9. Great post! I was just going through the critique group search last week. You are right about the value of fellow writers reading our work. I'm thrilled to be part of a new group! :)


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