One of the highlights of my week is my writing critique group. I enjoy getting together with like-minded people, sharing my work and theirs, and giving each other feedback as well as encouragement. It gives me a place to bring my work in progress and have others put their eyes (and ears) on it so that I can get some good pointers.
Now that this group has been running for a while, a few things have stuck out to me as definite strengths and potential pitfalls. Some from what I see in my own group, some from horror stories I have heard. So, if you are looking for a group or wanting to establish a critique group, let me give you some pointers.
DO: Have a published author in your midst
This is not absolutely necessary, but it is helpful. Otherwise, you might end up in a situation where it is the blind leading the blind. At the very least, the group’s leader (or wrangler, if you will), needs to be investing in learning the craft through writers conferences and books. A published author knows firsthand what editors and publishers are looking for in a manuscript. The author (published) is learned on craft and probably already investing in continuing education.
DON’T: Push others down
I understand that this, surprisingly, can be one of the major downfalls of a critique group – members of the group, whether intentionally or subconsciously (I hope the latter) pushing the top talent in the group “down”. Being unnecessarily harsh with these bright rising stars may make someone feel good for a moment, but it will destroy the group in the end. And the damage it does to the members is unimaginable. Yes, we need to critique each other, but it needs to be done with a heart that seeks to better the other person and their work, not to take them down a notch. It just has to be done with the right intent.
DO: Be honest
On the flip side, it is so important that you bring your honesty to the other person’s page. No one in the group will grow if we all sit around and tell each other how wonderful we all are. There is a place for accolades, but the reason people join these groups is to have other critical (and hopefully kind) eyes on their work. To better their work. To better them as writers.
DON’T: Be afraid to share your work
And so you can see how important it is for you to be brave and bring your work, to share your art with the other members of the group. With any luck, you’ve found a group like mine that will share feedback seasoned with encouragement. If you get the sense that others are there to BE critical, it’s not you, that is probably not the group for you. Feedback may not always be easy to hear and there may be times you want to cry from honest feedback (this is the work of your heart after all), but it should be delivered with some sense that they understand that very thing. That this is near and dear to you, that it’s not easy to hear, but that, just like stinging antiseptic, it must be done to help you get better.
In the end, that’s what it’s all about – honing your craft and becoming a better writer. So, walk into your writing critique group with that mindset. Yes, the encouragement and praise is great, but if that’s all you get, you’ll never grow. And isn’t that our goal anyway?
Anyone have any other thoughts on do’s or don’t’s that I didn’t mention?