Thursday's Tips: Why Critique Groups Help

Editors will tell you they see plenty of strong first three chapters. It’s after that that the writing may tend to become less engaging, less publishable. Writers spend a lot of energy perfecting and layering those first three chapters. Those chapters become contest entries. They are sent along in proposals. They have to shine, to demonstrate the writer’s strengths. But chapter four and so on cannot hide forever. Sooner or later, an editor will see those later pages. Will they engage editors and readers?

Here’s one way to ensure they do: participate in a critique group.

Here are some benefits of being part of a critique group:

** Objective perspective: Your fellow writers offer informed critiques on your projects. They’ve been writing themselves, they’ve studied the craft and committed to the pursuit of wordsmithing. Therefore, they have a lot to offer, especially when our own objectivity suffers due to all the saturated time we’ve spent staring at our own words.

** Economical help: Normally, critique group members exchange chapters with each other. You don’t have to pay for their input, or rather, you pay in kind. You offer your informed opinion and receive the same. You’d have to pay an editor by the hour (or by the page) for the service your crit partners provide, and you get more than one opinion if you’re in a group. That’s economical!

** Accountability: Your crit partners know you (over time). They know your writing weaknesses and can help you address them. And you also begin to learn the types of writing they won’t accept. One of my long-time crit partners will not accept words like: turn, walk, and look. She believes there are stronger verbs we can use instead. Do you think I can turn off (oops!) her voice as I’m writing? No. Especially if I know she’ll see that chapter. I do everything I can to avoid using those words. Ah, accountability. Makes us better writers.

** Forced concentrated time: Knowing I’m going to meet with my critique group forces me to face the weaknesses of my chapter in preparation. By instinct, and with sudden motivation, I know when something isn’t working. That’s when I pray and God usually shows me what’s missing as I continue rewriting. (So grateful for that. Try it. See what He’ll do for you too.) I know if a scene reads boring to me, my crit partners will call me on it. So, I labor over it. I force myself to face facts. That’s not to say I don’t miss things, or that I won’t still need their help. Crit partners are great for brainstorming. But it means I can’t be lazy. I must focus singularly on each chapter and make it shine, make it work. Anticipating they’ll see it motivates me.

** Fellowship. Just knowing you’re not in the writing journey alone, that there are others out there who can relate so very well, helps, encourages.

I highly recommend joining a critique group, or if you have one, bringing work to critique every time you meet, if at all possible. Your writing will be better for it. And you’ll be a blessing as well.

What other areas have you found where critique groups have helped make your writing stronger?

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Annette! I'm not part of a crit group, per se, but my individual partners are wonderful, and have helped me hone my writing tremendously.

    I have learned so much from each one. Sally Laity won't let me by with over-using the same word, especially in close proximity. She also abhors cliched descriptions. For instance, I know better than to let too many things "escape" from a character when Sally's looking at my work. (Sighs escape, tendrils of hair escape, gasps escape...but she insists there are better ways to say so, and she's right.)
    My crit partners quickly learn not to send me sentences that start with "It was/were" or "There was/were," etc. I hate replacing what could be a strong, descriptive noun that actually says something with these generic terms.
    Love those critters! Wouldn't think of letting a ms go to a publisher without allowing my writing buds to pick it apart first.