Hosted by: Cynthia Swanson & Andrew Swanson

A Case for Critique Groups

While every writer inevitably writes alone, there comes a time when most writers want or need feedback. Does the story work?  Do your sentences flow?  Does a certain character seem real enough?  Is there a better or more creative way to describe something?

Who do we often look to for those critical answers?

  • Family.  Having family read your work is good for the spirit, but unless they’re a writer or editor, it won’t help you improve your novel.  How brutally honest will they actually be?  They love you and want you to be happy.  Think of all those truly horrible singers who audition on American Idol every year.  Their family told them they were great.  But oh baby…some really were not.
  • Friends.  Like family, friends have a vested interest in the relationship.  They like you and won’t want to hurt your feelings if they don’t like something.  Do you want an ego boost, or do you want to improve your novel?  Friends as readers can provide different, non-technical information that can be extremely helpful.  The key here is approach and expectation. (more on that soon)
  • Professional editors.  Some people go this route.  Make sure the person is reputable.  Don’t be afraid to ask for references.  Then actually check them.  It’s more than your money at stake–your book is your baby, your creation.
  • Other writers–These are the people who have the expertise.  They understand how the process works.  They’re used to reading with a critical eye (which of you haven’t ever read a book and pointed out to yourself every imperfection or stilted phrase?)

I have written since I was a kid.  In my mid-twenties, I started working on my first novel-length work, but I was doing it totally intuitively.  I couldn’t go to family for affirmation because they weren’t supportive and refused to read anything I wrote.  I didn’t know anyone else who wrote, so I had no one to talk to.  I felt a little lost and alone.

I don’t remember now how I met this person, but over the course of several conversations, I learned she was writing a novel, too, and that she was in a critique group with other writers.  I immediately asked to join.

From the very first night, I was hooked–not only by the ability to have my work read and to receive constructive criticism and brainstorm ideas, but I was hooked on the camaraderie.  From that moment on, I decided that this would be the gift I gave to myself each week.  Not only did I learn a lot, but it forced me to have discipline to write to have product to read for that week’s critique group.

Because of what I learned there and applied to my work, I got an agent and was marketing my work and getting personal rejections.

What happened next?  That’s another story.  But hopefully I’ve made the case for why writers should consider joining a critique group.

Come back tomorrow, and I’ll explain one way they work.

Categories: Writing

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