Being part of a solid writers’ critique group has been increasingly important to me as I’ve gotten more serious about writing. It wasn’t until I joined a critique group at my then-local library, four years ago, that I really started to focus and write more. When I relocated from New Jersey to North Carolina, one of the things I missed most was that eclectic group of gifted, thoughtful folks in my old group. Luckily, I’ve since found myself in a new and equally talented, sustaining, warm, embracing group of like-minded writerly cohorts. And it’s wonderful for so many reasons.
1. Feedback: A few fresh pairs of exacting eyes see things I don’t when looking at my writing. They tell me what works, what doesn’t; what’s clear, what’s confusing; what’s necessary, what’s excess. Sometimes they all agree on a certain point, sometimes they each have a different take on it. Either way, they allow me to view my work from new angles, in new lights, and my writing is the better for it.
2. Community: It’s easy to feel isolated as a writer. I don’t mean in the stereotypical “writers are loners who spend all their time indoors and in their own heads”. But not sharing something that’s a big part of what occupies one’s time, mind and energy can make a person feel cut off from others. Being a member of a writers’ group, a group where everyone’s goal is better writing for themselves and the others, alleviates a lot of that.
3. Support: Even deeper than the sense of belonging, of common goals, there is the more personal aspect of having a handful of people whose success I care deeply about and whose endeavors I want to help promote, and who feel the same about me and my efforts. People who routinely offer up something as personal as what their imaginations dream up, who welcome me doing the same. We gather together, not just to share writing and give tips. We commiserate with each others’ setbacks, rejoice in each others’ successes and help bolster each other when we’re down. We check in with each other, even between meetings, support each other, make each other laugh, and it really makes a difference.
4. Renewal: Sometimes I don’t write. For days or weeks or months. And in those times, I feel like a pulsating lump of failure. Sometimes I think about quitting my writers’ group, because, hey, I’m not actually a writer, right? But then, I read that month’s submissions, and laugh or cry or gnaw my nails (some of them write thrillers), scribble furious notes, and get extremely involved. So I go to the meeting, and something about discussing the others’ work, something about thinking and talking about writing, something about being with them for 2 hours, renews me. Reignites my motivation, refocuses my goals, restores my faith that maybe I can write. And then I do.
5. Perspective: Yes, I learn a lot from their critiques, but I think I learn even more from their writing. I learn new techniques, new perspectives, new ways of crafting scenes and building worlds and shaping characters. Critiquing is just as important as being critiqued, because that’s how I sharpen my own critical eye. Discussing writing is just as important as doing writing, because revelations and moments of learning are so often born of dialogue.
6. Exchange: Our exchanges of ideas go beyond the craft and mechanics of fiction writing. We try to make sense of marketing, earnestly share and learn from each others’ mistakes, suggest tools, share articles, recommend books. In short, we don’t just talk writing; we talk writing life.
Are you in a critique group? What do you love about it? Share your thoughts.