Why Every Writer Needs a Genuine Critique Group
Regardless of how experienced, talented, or successful a writer you are, you need outside feedback on your work. You will be too close to your writing to see certain parts the way a reader will, so you won’t be able to fix those sections. A critique group is an excellent way to not only receive this necessary feedback, but continue to grow, improve, and learn as a writer.
What Is a Critique Group?
A critique group is a group of writers who gather to review each other’s pieces and provide feedback on what is working and what is not and how to improve the piece. The key part of the critique group definition is “how to improve.” What a critique group offers that many beta readers can’t is the ability to articulate ways you can improve your writing and why certain areas are or are not working.
What a Critique Group Does
A critique group meets on a regular basis to help each other improve their pieces and grow as writers. These meetings can be as frequent as every week and as infrequent as once a quarter. How often you meet will depend on how prolific the writers are, how much time the members have to spend writing and critiquing, and how many pages/words each member submits for each meeting. I have participated in weekly, biweekly, and monthly critique groups. Generally, the more infrequent the meetings, the larger the writing submissions are.
Some critique groups only go over their member’s writing when they meet. The more effective ones in my experience send each other their writing ahead of time, so the group can spend the whole meeting discussing the pieces and members can take their time reviewing the submissions. As a member of the critique group, you will be expected to review everyone’s piece just like they will do for you and be prepared for this discussion.
At the meeting, the group goes through the big picture successes and failures of a piece. Usually, each member gets the chance to share what they saw and ways they believe the piece could be improved. The writer being critiqued should do their best not to speak or defend their piece during this time. The discussion is about absorbing how others perceive your piece, not explaining what your intentions were. After everyone has given their feedback, the writer may ask questions and reveal what their intentions were.
What You Get Out of a Critique Group
After a meeting during which your writing was critiqued, you should receive a copy of everyone’s comments. This can be a physical, printed document or a virtual, emailed one. These will help you remember what was said when you revise later. You should provide similar documentation of your critiques to your peers.
Later, when you are ready and not feeling stubborn or defensive, review your critiques and dig into your revision. This is where you decide which feedback to accept and implement, which feedback to address in a different way than was suggested, and which ones to ignore. As the author, you always get the final say.
You will get as much out of critiquing your peers work as you will out of their feedback on your pieces. By looking at other people’s writing with a critical eye, you will learn how to do the same for your own writing. You will be able to better recognize things like info dumps, unnecessary backstory, awkward dialogue, and lack of character emotion/development. If you find yourself noticing a specific aspect of everyone’s pieces, it is likely your subconscious is trying to show that is an aspect you need to address in your own work.
In addition to feedback and growth, you will get support for your writing through your critique group. These are people who understand what you mean when you say a character is mad at you. They will encourage you to try new writing styles, revise that old piece, and above all else, to keep writing. You will share knowledge and experiences, promotions, and friendship. They will become your mini-writing community. This is invaluable.
Why an Editor Recommends Writers Participate in Critique Groups
I have learned more from the writers in my critique groups than I did from my MFA in Creative Writing. Critique groups thickened my skin, taught me how to be an editor, showed me all the publishing opportunities out there, and have kept me writing. They can do the same for you. As an editor, I recommend writers take their stories to critique before hiring someone. Get outside feedback, perform the necessary revision, then hire a professional. When you use a critique group first, your story will be in better shape for the editor (saving them time and you money) and you will have further honed your critical eye and built a community.
I recommend having longer stories in particular professionally edited after critique because it is highly unlikely your critique partners read your story in a relatively short span of time like a reader would. Instead, they probably read chunks over a period of weeks, months, or even years. They won’t be able to offer the big picture feedback an editor will. The one exception to this is trading whole novels. I traded my first novel with three other writers. We met once a month to review one person’s book, and two of us were professional editors. If you have a critique group like this and you didn’t have to do major revisions after your feedback, you might not need a developmental edit. You do, however, still require a copy or line edit and proof reader. When it comes to unpaid feedback on your writing, a critique group will be the most valuable way to Ignite Your Ink.
How do you get feedback on your writing? Share your experiences in the comments below. For more revising tips to help you transform your writing into the kind that lingers with readers, subscribe to Ignite Your Ink and claim your Revision Checklist.
Ignite Your Ink is written by editor and author Caitlin Berve. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics, actively participates in multiple writers’ organizations, and is dedicated to helping writers produce content that leaves an impression on readers.