I would like to share what I’ve learned since becoming a member of the Southwest Iowa Writers Guild. I am now aware that critique groups are pretty much strictly business. You submit a piece of your writing for advice and criticism specific to that piece. While writers' groups help you learn about the business of writing, critique groups are where you hone your writing. It’s all about the written work, not about the writer.
I’ve learned that critique groups can benefit you in more ways than the obvious one of having good and bad points pointed out in your own stories. As the strengths and weaknesses in others' work are called to your attention and examined in critiques by experienced members, you'll learn about techniques you can apply to your own writing, and you'll learn more about the elements that go into good writing.
Critiquing others' work can help you improve your own writing. It's often easier to see mistakes in others' work than it is to see what's wrong in your own. You're too close to your own work to see its flaws. As you learn to recognize weaknesses in others' work, you'll be able to apply your new analytical skills to distance yourself from your own writing, allowing you to recognize and avoid those same weaknesses.
What should you expect when you submit a story to a critique group? Well, be ready for honest criticism that will likely hurt the first time, perhaps every time. Some members will deliver that criticism more bluntly than others. You might consider it a disheartening experience, but remember that what you're getting are only opinions, and every group is made up of disparate personalities, each with different tastes. All critics are there to improve their writing. They figure that's why you're there, too. So accept the criticisms you agree with, thank everyone who offered a critique, and consider this a preparation for the publishing process—for the time when you'll have a real editor going over your manuscript and asking for changes prior to publication.
Of course you want constructive criticism, but its okay to ask for opinions on only one aspect of your story—characterization, dialog, adding more flesh and blood to the bones of your story for example, if that's what you're having the most trouble with.
Perhaps the best thing about being a member of a critique group is that you can ask members to critique a piece of your writing not just once, but several times as you act on their suggestions and work to improve the story. Just as anyone who has seen the eyes of friends and family glaze over at mention of writing will appreciate the benefits of joining a group of their confederates.
Consider several things when you're choosing a group to join.
• Ideally a group should be made up of writers of all skill levels. If you join a critique group made up entirely of beginning writers, it will be like the blind leading the blind. There will be no experienced members who can help guide novices in their growth as writers. A good mix of skill levels means you will feel comfortable at all levels of your growth as a writer. You will always benefit from the advice of someone with more experience than you, and there will be opportunities for you to help someone with less experience.
• Is the group limited to a certain genre, or open to all genres? If you write in the genres of fiction or poetry, you will likely find more benefit in a group specializing in writing of those genres. Each genre has certain conventions that those outside of them may not be familiar with.
• What system does the group use to cycle members' work for critique, and how will this affect you? Depending on the size of the group, you may find yourself with a heavy workload of critiques in return for receiving feedback on only one of your stories every few weeks. Frequency for both critiques and submissions ranges widely from group to group.
Sharing your work for critique takes courage; the feedback you receive can seem harsh. But it's the only way you'll know whether you're improving as a writer, and it's the most constructive proving ground for your story before you submit it for publication.
If you haven’t done so already, in addition to the Faithwriters’ Challenge, be brave and join a writer’s guild.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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