Being a member of a good critique group is like gold for up and coming writers. I am blessed with a great group of talented and insightful people who help me see problems or even places in my story or writing that I can do better. They push me to be the best I can be.
Critique groups can be in-person or online. Both can work, but what makes the group good is the members.
Choosing a critique group is like choosing a tennis partner: You want to be within your peers or those more experienced than you as much as possible. You want to be able to learn from your group, so you don’t want a group that is less experienced than you. Now, some members in your group might be less experienced, and that’s fine. I’m not saying they can’t provide good feedback; they are readers, afterall. However, if all the members of the group are beginners and you’ve got some experience, you might be better served finding a group with members who you can learn more from.
Good critiquing is kind of an art in itself. You want to be encouraging, truthful, not negative — definitely not mean — but most of all, useful. I’ve had my share of critiques that aren’t useful. In one online critique group I used to be a member of, one critiquer said she didn’t like my story because she was a grandmother and she couldn’t bare the idea that her grandson wouldn’t want to visit her (as in my story). It was truthful, not negative and not mean, but it wasn’t very useful. As much as grandmother’s might not like it, kids don’t always want to visit their grandparents. And what I was looking for was critiques on the writing, how well the story flows, is it interesting, are the characters believable.
I have found that in the group I’m attending now, and, like playing tennis with someone better than you, it is helping to grow my writing faster than if I didn’t have the group. We’re so close to our work that we will often miss things, problems as well as opportunities. A good critique group helps you see these. Sure, you might find them on your own, but that could be in draft four or five. The group can save you time.
But what if you’re just a brilliant writer and everyone who has ever read your work thinks it’s great? (That’s all of us, right?) I’m sure there are authors who have been published without ever joining a critique group — never say never — but I’d say they’re few and far between. Maybe you’ll be one of them, but why take the chance? When you send out a manuscript to an agent or editor, you want it to be the best it can be. If you’ve done your research, found the perfect agent, seen him/her speak at some conferences and you know he/she is the agent for you, you want to show off your absolute best work because he/she might not be interested in seeing another submission.
That’s why tonight, I’m going to my critique group.
What’s your best critique group advice?