Several days ago, I wrote about my first experience with a critique group. [A Case for Critique Groups] I’m not sure how long the group had been meeting before I joined, but I still remember my excitement and fear that first night. It’s incredibly scary to share the carefully crafted words you sweated over without people, for the intent of getting feedback about it. Other people went ahead of me. I think everyone read the own work. I read mine with as much nuance and feeling as I could, but I was so terrified I didn’t notice anything around me. I was really surprised and pleased by the comments, but I felt strangely dissatisfied that I hadn’t been able to watch and experience people’s reactions as they were listening to the chapter.
That feeling went away when we decided to trade manuscripts and read each other’s scripts. You see, we all were aware that we were so close to our work, that we read what we meant to write, not always the exact words on the page. The people listening could only comment on what they heard, so the writer walked away with comments, but with a flaw in their manuscript that went uncaught.
Here’s the advantage of having someone else read your writing:
- You get to hear how it sounds. How do the sentences flow between one and the next? Did the person struggle over a particular section?
- You get to watch and hear people’s reactions. Did they smile or laugh where you wanted them to? Were they surprised by that twist? Or tense and on the edge of their seat during the big action scene?
- You get free editing support. The person reading your manuscript will usually catch and correct spelling/grammar/punctuation errors as they’re reading. How many times have we wanted to do that while reading a book?
- You get the benefit of the group knowledge to fix those rough areas. If there’s a really rough section, the group can stop and brainstorm solutions that you can take back and use, or discard.
- And finally, you receive verbal feedback and suggestions.
See how much more robust the potential for learning is when someone else reads your work?
It’s not enough for me to have people listen to my work and tell me what they think. I want to know what works, and what doesn’t. I want concrete suggestions for improvement; the ability have the group use their collective knowledge to restructure a paragraph to make it a better read; another eye to check for errors on the page; a chance to see if I’m hitting the right funny/sad/tense notes. And by doing this with the manuscript of every member of the group, every time we meet, we multiply our opportunity to learn and improve exponentially.
I’m not saying the other types of critique groups don’t work. Not everybody is looking for the same thing. This one works for me.
So tell me…anyone else out there with critique group ideas? What works for you? And why?