On Being In A Critique Group
I have spoken on here about how much I love being in my writing critique group. I love it. It has been such a saving grace to me in more ways than one. It is my main social activity, and I really don’t like missing one meeting. Janaury 2015 marks my one year anniversary of being in the group, and in that time I’ve only missed one meeting (and that due to a major migraine I developed the day before). But, it isn’t perfect. We have our thin-skinned writers who have problems with receiving critiques about their babies. We have writers who take forever to get to the point of their story. We also have some writers who we aren’t quite sure why they are there as they rarely post anything up for critiques or only come to meetings once in a blue moon. It’s still a great group despite all of that. Why?
First, what determines the success of a group? A good leader is necessary, and we have an excellent leader who knows what she’s talking about. She’s been where most of us are currently in our writing life. She’s dealt with the naysayers, the plagiarists, the editors, and those who don’t know what they are talking about and she pays it all forward to us. She keeps control of the group and makes sure we all have a chance to be critiqued or to give a critque.
Second, a strong foundation is key. We have a good ‘core’ group of writers. These people have valuable advice and are talented writers in themselves. These are the people I listen to whenever they critique my work because they give well-thought constructive criticism. When they tell me my writing is good, I can trust that they aren’t just saying that. They really like it, and whenever one or more of them get excited about something I’ve written, I know I’ve written something worth printing. On the flip side, if they say something needs to be worked on, then you can bet there is a flaw. We use the Rule of Three in our group: if three people say the same thing about your work, then you should consider what they are saying. A majority opinion on an issue in your submission is usually an indicator that you need to take a second look at your writing. This has helped me immensely. It’s how I learned that I info dump in my rough drafts. This means that I give the reader all of the information in my head at the time instead of spreading it out. I’m learning how to resolve this problem thanks to my group.
Third, you MUST be able to accept negative criticism of your own work if you are going to give it to someone else. I think most writers tend to be thin-skinned when it comes to our work. We wear our hearts on our sleeves where our ‘babies’ are concerned. But at some point, you must realize that if you are going to grow as a writer then you have to be able to accept that there are people who will not like your writing. You have to be able to take criticism you don’t like. And don’t be hypocritical about it by saying you like that kind of opinion when you really have a hard time hearing anything bad about your work. To begin with, we all suck from time to time in our writing. It’s just a fact. A rough draft is a rough draft. It has splinters and cracks. It’s going to have grammar errors, spelling mistakes, and a hundred other writing issues. It is supposed to. Once you get it written then you go back and edit it. You get to sand it down, smooth the edges, and polish it up. Your finished story will be so much better after the editing but you still have to be able to hear the sentence “I don’t like it” or “I thought it wasn’t that good.” Again, remember the Rule of Three. At the same time, it isn’t just important to receive negative criticism but to be able to give a good critique as well. Even a negative critique can be done in a tactful way. You do not need to be rude about it, but sugar-coating it isn’t always necessary, or required either. That’s why it’s called CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. It is given so you will improve and become a better writer.
Fourth, being respectful of the other members in your group is just as important, even (maybe especially) if you don’t like or get along with someone else in the group. Most people can be tolerated, but if there’s no respect between members, then the group will fail. Even if it’s just one person disrepecting a few members, the group will not succeed. One person can make the difference. They can make the group miserable. Most groups have rules/guidelines in place to help deal with these kind of people but some are small enough that there are unspoken rules. Even so, some people either don’t or can’t see how their behavior is affecting the temperature of the group. One person can kill a group because the others may decide to stop coming to the meetings, or they fear submitting their work because they know they will receive a scathing review from the one person because they know the person does not like them. The Rule of Three applies here as well. If you are the only person in the group that is giving a negative criticism, you might look at what it is that is causing you to give that review. Are you being fair to the person whose work you are critiquing? What is it exactly that is bothering you about the work if it’s not bothering the majority of the group? Are you being nitpicky? Maybe you just weren’t in the right frame of mind when you read the writer’s submission. Keep in mind we all have bad days or something that might be causing distractions.
Being in a writing critique group is incredibly beneficial. You gain so much more than just a review of your work. But you have to be a willing and respectful participant. It is a pay-it-forward give-and-take situation. If you can’t meet either of those ideas, or if you are just in it for your own personal gain, then you might consider not joining or being in a writing group. Or, at the very least, go find one that meets your criteria for a critique group, one that best fits your personality. And if you are someone who loves being around other writers and truly wants to improve your work, go join a group. You won’t regret it.
Have a great Tuesday everyone!