Friday, November 18, 2011

Why You Need a Critique Group

Let's face it. One of the most wonderful experiences you can have as a writer is to find a reader who likes your work. And one of the hardest things is to hear from a reader that your writing needs improvement. It can be terrifying to share your work, especially if you think it will be criticized.

But to grow as a writer, it's important to get honest feedback. That's what a good critique group can do for you: give you the feedback you need to improve your writing and get into shape for publication. Trust me, at some point in your writing career you'll want a group of writers who can help you out in this arena. (And yes, think of it as a career even if you haven't published yet.)

There are other writers who speak to how to find a good critique group, when in the writing process to solicit critiques, and how to judge what critiques to accept and which to pass on. I'll simply say that a good group is one is a good fit. I like a group that is both honest and supportive, and that gets what I'm trying to do with my fiction even if it's not the genre or style they normally read.

As for the other two issues, some people say not to share your work too early. You'll have to judge for yourself the definition of "too early," but I'd hold off until you feel like you have a draft ready for review and input. And you can choose to take or leave the input you get based on whether you feel like it is accurate and whether you think that making the change makes sense for what you are trying to do. Taking a critique is as much of an art form as writing itself, and it requires some practice and experimentation to see what works for you.

Let me tell you how a critique can help you by pointing out flaws in your draft. True story: I once wrote a short story for a writers workshop held on a college campus. The group read my draft and told me they couldn't relate to my protagonist because he was so whiny and old. One person suggested, "I wish the old guy would just die already."

I said, "Old? What do you mean, old?"

The group said, "The guy seems like a grumpy old man to us. How old is he supposed to me?"

To my chagrin, I replied, "He's supposed to be a teenager having a pity party."

The group essentially told me, "Um. No. You didn't write a teenager here. This is a grumpy old man."

Talk about a failure to communicate. To say I was embarrassed doesn't quite express how awful I felt about that critique. But what the group said was true. And if they couldn't relate to the protagonist, the story was a failure. So I took their advice, which included a way to make my character sound more like a teen, and it worked fantastically. It's a story I'm proud of, after all these years. And I made it better because of the feedback I got.

That's what makes a good critique group, ultimately. Somehow, your writing gets better because of what the group says. And that's why you need to find a group that fits for you. Those group members and their comments will make you sharper.

Have you ever had an experience like mine? (Or is it just me? Haha!) Tell me about your critique group and what you like about it. Or share when you know your draft is ready for a critique.

And thanks for stopping by the blog today!

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.


  1. Oh man, I've had so many experiences like that! Including one time where I tried to write a guy but people thought the protagonist was a girl. Critiques with painful truths sting - but only temporarily. If a critique group is any good, they'll also put some nice comments in there to help buffer the constructive criticism.

  2. I think my biggest fear is not that my grasp of descriptive writing is bad, but that my story telling as far as attention grabbing plausible plots needs work. And that's a talent/imagination issue, not a technical one.

  3. I agree, Annalise. A good group will balance criticism with positive input. I don't like groups that only play "gotcha." That doesn't help anyone.

    Abby, I think every writer struggles with plot sometimes. It'd say it's a mix of imagination & skill. I still don't feel like a talented plotter. But practice has made me better at coming up with ideas. Have you found anything that helps you plot?Maybe I can post on plotting resources soon. :)

  4. Even after the horror stories I have heard about critique groups, I joined one in my town. I am still a newbie there, but I am learning SO MUCH from both the heavily published and unpublished writers in the group. I will not be submitting till early next year, but I'm bracing myself for the onslaught of helpful criticism. :)

  5. M.E., I'm glad to hear that your group is working for you. Hooray! It's great that you are learning a lot - sounds like a good group to be a part of.


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