Friday, February 15, 2013

Artistic Do-Si-Do: How Critique Groups Help You Get More Done

As I write this post, I'm about to head out the door to meet with my critique group. For writers, especially those of us who produce fiction, having some accountability helps. Of course, non-fiction writers need accountability too, but deadlines do a fantastic job of that. If you're writing for a magazine, a website, a blog owned by someone else... basically, anything where you have an editor or some other "boss" expecting you to be done on a specific date (and they're probably paying you for that)... then you already have someone to be responsible to. You've got to get that article done and to the editor for review (and payment).

But as I said, if you're a first-time fiction writer or a self-published author who isn't reporting to anyone to meet a deadline, then you can easily find yourself distracted to the point that you don't get work done. We all know about distractions. For many of us, our smartphones and computers do a great job of pulling us away from writing, or giving us an excuse to procrastinate a little longer.

There are plenty of other distractions too, if you're looking for them. When I asked some fellow writers about how they fit writing into their schedules, one writer from my local Nanowrimo group, Maryanne Huber (find her blog here), admitted that she was behind on her word count because of a band competition. I'm assuming that was connected to her family or friends, and let's face it, family and friends need our time! There are all kinds of reasons not to write that are legitimate and important. But we still have to fit in our writing somehow, or it doesn't get done.

So, what can we do?

One answer is to join a critique group. There's plenty to say about critiquing, and I won't get into it all here. At least not today. But suffice it to say, if you can find a good, supportive, honest group, you may find that it helps your productivity. When you have a set of people waiting to hear your next chapter, poem, letter, or whatever you're working on, it inspires you to produce, if only to avoid the disappointed looks when you don't have anything to share. I suppose you could call it peer pressure, but in a good way. If you like your group, you'll want to have something new to share with them whenever you meet. And that will help you keep butt in chair to write.

Critique groups are also useful for helping you improve your skills, and that is time worth spent, as another fellow writer, Guilie Castillo Oriard, noted when I asked him for his thoughts on making time to write: "Critiquing takes up a lot of time...well spent, don't get me wrong. I've learned more from that group than in all my years of writing by my lonesome." And that's the truth. Writing for a group does two things that help you learn to be a better writer: They provide accountability partners that make you write more (and practice is what improves you, make no mistake.) And they give you feedback so you can learn to better assess your writing and spot areas that you need to work on.

Working with a critique group definitely is a dance. You have to learn what advice to take, what to ignore, what to reshape to fit your work. It's a do-si-do. But in the end, don't we all like a good square dance? It's fun and we get good exercise. Writing can be that way for you too. If you don't have a local group that meets in person, remember that you can always start one on Meetup or by leaving fliers at local colleges, bookstores, and libraries. Or you can join a writers group online. There are plenty of them.

I'll try to talk at a later date about how you can make the most out of the critiques you get. But in the meantime, I'll just leave you with the encouragement to connect with some other writers and set regular times (okay, deadlines) to share your latest work with them. The accountability will do wonders for your productivity!

Now, you share: Do you have a critique group? A writing partner? A regular reader of your work who gives you feedback? Do you set yourself deadlines that you can keep? How does accountability help you to write more?

Copyright (c) 2013 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

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