I have been writing since childhood, and the instant I discovered the local writing guild, I joined it. Both gave me experience and improved my writing, but neither did as much for me as joining a critique group. The fact is, I didn’t see much improvement in my writing until that point. Joining a critique group has turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made for my writing career.
If you haven’t found a critique group but want to join one, I encourage you to keep looking. I know it’s hard to find people who understand you, who get your writing, and who are dedicated to helping you improve. It took me a while to find the group I am a part of now, but believe me, the wait is worth it.
Here are some of that you can expect from a good critique group.
The Benefits of Critique Groups
Smart writers do not avoid criticism. Almost nothing can help or hinder a writer more than feedback. It can be hard to find, and if it is found, oftentimes poor feedback is the result.Good feedback builds up a writer by pointing out how they can improve. Poor feedback will either provide little information, or will tear down a writer so that they quit. People who give poor feedback will say things like, “this is good,” or “this is terrible; you should quit immediately and become a hairdresser.” Poor feedback gives no constructive criticism.
If you find a good critique group, then hopefully you will find more than just feedback, you’ll find good, constructive feedback. If you are really lucky, you’ll get timely feedback as well. One of the great things of timely feedback is how quickly you get it back. What good is feedback if you don’t get it until months later?
I got lucky with my critique group. With them, I can get constructive feedback in as little as one week, or even the same day. With that, I can learn and make changes to my Work in Progress (WIP) the next day.
Having Your Faults Pointed Out
No one likes having their faults pointed out. Every writer wants to hear that their story is perfect, wonderful, that they don’t have to make any changes to it. People will love this story and publishers will compete to have the honor of publishing your work.
Yeah, right. How often does that happen? Never.
Pointing out faults is a part of the feedback critique groups provide. Critique groups aren’t as emotionally invested in the story as you, and they can see things wrong with your WIP you can’t. Like it or not, stories can’t improve if no one points out the things you did wrong. How do you expect to improve if you keep making the same mistakes over and over?
Access to Experience
Another good thing about joining a critique group is the fact that you aren’t alone. You are surrounded by other writers, many of them at different levels of experience. Some will just be starting their writing career, and others will have published several pieces already. All of these people have something to teach you if you are willing to listen.
Imagine receiving writing tips from someone who has published one, three, or even ten books already. They have obviously succeeded in becoming a writer. They can tell you how to find publishers, agents and editors. They can tell you how they came to be a writer. Hearing their first-hand experience can be inspiring, and they can tell you how to handle the stresses that come with being a writer.
Exposure to Tools
Something else that other, experienced writers can provide is tools. There are thousands of things out there designed to help you improve your writing: books, blogs, online classes, conferences, and even software. Many writers are only too happy to talk about which books or blogs are good, which ones helped them, and which ones didn’t. Over the years, these writers have accumulated many books on the writing craft, and lucky are the ones who get to benefit from their libraries.
Reading Other WIPs
Let’s face it. We have an easier time pointing out other people’s faults than we do our own. That is why reading other writer’s works in progress is so helpful. Sometimes reading the mistakes in other WIPs reminds us of the mistakes in ours. Other times, it is simply reassuring to know that even great writers make mistakes. And other times, it takes reading beginner stories to remind us of how far we have gone in our writing careers.
If you are a writer and have access to a critique group, then I urge you to take advantage of it. You won’t regret it.