Critique Groups: Pros and Cons
As writers we need outside help with our work to find those errors we don’t always see. I don’t care how good you are at spelling and grammar few people will catch every little boo-boo. We are too close to it and not everything stands out like it will to an unbiased party.
I’ve been in many critique groups, had edit buddies and even sent work across the web to another friend for perusal and second opinions. This is a great tool all writers should use if they have the opportunity. It toughens the skin and prepares us for the real world of writing. Editors and publishers aren’t always as nice or patient.
- Write first, edit later.
The best way to write is by the seat of our pants, typing away not worrying about errors until later. Stopping every few minutes to fix each misspelled word, adding all the commas and checking grammar will take us out of the story and we lose our train of thought. Put the words down first and come back later to do repairs.
- Don't be too sensitive.
Stories are our children. It’s not easy to have someone tell us what is wrong. It is the equivalent of showing a child to a group of people and saying, “How does she look?” If they say her nose is too big or her ears stick out we are offended. Luckily, articles can be rewritten much easier than getting a nose job.
- You need someone who shares your beliefs and writing style.
If you write fantasy or erotica and your partner is very religious, they might have a problem reading your material. Make sure you have a similar writing style or that they are at least open minded about the type of work you produce.
Likewise if you are a Christian and your team member is atheist these things have a tendency to show through in a person’s work and can be a point of conflict.
If you write non-fiction about science or investing your buddy needs to have some knowledge about these terms and information.
- You need an objective critique partner.
We don’t need shrinking violets here. Being too critical or rude isn’t good but we need realistic feedback that lets us know the truth. You have to have a strong backbone to be a writer. If someone says your work is terrible, you need to give it up and just forget about it. You don't have to take their advice. If you really love to write, it’s your dream and you can’t imagine not writing, find another person to edit your work and maybe take a class but don’t let someone negative ruin your career choice. We were all learning once and everyone’s early work looked amateur; so don’t give up just work harder.
Someone who only pats you on the back and says, “Good story,” isn’t a good option either. You need someone who will take a red pen and mark up your page, let you know where change is needed or errors should be corrected. This doesn’t mean you should do everything they tell you to do. It’s your work; do what feels right.
- Make sure your editing workload is even.
You want to have the same amount of word count or at least pretty darn close. The groups I am a member of have rules. You each bring so many pages, lines or paragraphs with the font and spacing being the same. Some use timers and have a limit so that every page is given the same attention. This way one doesn’t feel they are being taken advantage of. Set a time to meet. Once a week, once a month or whatever works out for both/all of you. If you meet at someone’s home make sure everyone takes a turn and no one feels like they are having to play hostess/host every time.
This also works online, you just email instead of meeting in person. Use colored font, parenthesis or bold/italic type to show suggestions. Whatever works just be consistent.
- Don’t take it personally if they don’t agree with your changes.
Remember, it’s their story. Your ideas are just suggestions and they may not agree so just move on even if it looks like a glaring error to you.
- Proofread your own work before you hand it over to your friend.
Don’t make them do all the editing. Writing willy-nilly and then handing a rough draft to your helper is rude and lazy. All parties involved should go over their own work with a fine-tooth comb being as thorough as possible before meeting or sending it out.
The advantages of a group, is that you have more than one person looking over your work as apposed to one but we don’t all have this opportunity.
Where do you find critique partners?
- Writer’s organizations or clubs.
- Online writer’s groups.
- Friends you meet online that also write.
- Family, although I hesitate to use them because they are biased.
- Students from a writing class or workshop you’ve taken.
- Post a bulletin at the library to organize a group. (Be sure to give genre.)
Check your local newspaper, online or even your library for writer’s groups near you. You might be surprised how many there are and many are genre specific so if you are a niche writer you can find others that share your interest.
If you can't find a group start your own.
Where do you meet?
- Coffee shops
- Campus meeting rooms
- Church meeting rooms
- Take turns at each home
Remember, even the greats have someone else go over their work. Stephen King has his wife look at his work before he sends it to his editor. If you haven’t already read his book On Writing; it is humorous and entertaining.