Seven Reasons For and Three Against Critique Groups

I tend to be a solitary person. I have no problem spending the day with myself, me and my computer (and a good book), exploring the world from the safety of my home-based office. I live through my characters, test my boundaries through them. I prevail over great adversaries and unbeatable bad guys. I out-think both friend and foe as I write, rewrite, and refine my story until it comes out exactly as I’d like it to. Nowhere in my real world can I be as popular, smart, strong, and energetic as I can be in my fictional life.

There is one compelling reason, though, that I venture into the physical world: Monday evenings, twice a month, with my critique group. I joined this wonderful group of fellow writers so I could bond with kindred souls, be around others who could talk non-stop and forever (literally) about authors, books, POVs and story arcs. I found not only that, but more as I wandered down the yellow brick road in search of authorial fame and fortune. Some glorious victories and a few hard truths (mostly about myself).

Here are seven reasons why I’ll never give up my writer’s group:writers group

  • They catch my factual errors. In fact, they announce them, challenge me, and dispute my research if they’re sure I’m wrong. I better know what I’m talking about before I’m on the hot seat.
  • They let me know if a scene sounds authentic. That’s a gem. It’s easy to think the image is perfect the 2,159th time I stare bleary-eyed at the same page. They read with fresh eyes.
  • They tell me when a scene sounds right and delivers what I’d hoped. I love that.
  • They force me to show my work to others. They saw my first and second novel before my husband did.
  • I get as much out of listening to the review of other author’s WIP as I do being on the hot seat myself. My fellow writers take their job seriously and do their best to accurately and intelligently decode the mistakes found in the selection being reviewed. I learn a lot from their words that I can apply to my story.
  • They are fascinating people. I could listen to their life experiences all day and when one of them misses a few meetings, I worry about them. I see these people more than most of my family. Well, that’s a good thing.
  • Agents want your work to be critiqued before you arrive in their mailbox.  They want to know they’re not the first besides your mother and dog who have read your story. A critique group qualifies.

That’s pretty convincing, isn’t it? These next three are all on me. They are personal quirks that challenge me even as I intellectually understand the pluses of having my work critiqued:facial expression boulder man

  • I am too shy. It’s difficult to put myself out there, bare my soul, share secrets I don’t tell anyone. Yet, here I am trying to explain to this circle of patient, caring writers the motivation for one of my scenes. I don’t like talking about myself and that will never change.
  • It hurts. I don’t take criticism well. I get upset. Sure, I should have a thick skin, but I don’t. I never have and–here’s the surprise–I don’t believe that should preclude me from being a writer. The fact that I die inside when people don’t like something I’ve slaved over for months doesn’t mean I’ll never make it.
  • They contradict each other sometimes. That’s not a bad thing. It means that in the end, it’s my decision to follow well-intentioned advice or toss it to the curb.

That’s it. The pros of my writing group vastly outweigh the cons so I’m sticking with them.

Are you struggling with a decision about joining a writer’s group–really committing the time and effort it requires to make it work? Here’s Holly Lisle’s take on that subject and Writing-World’s overview on the subject.

More on writing:

Writers Tip #52: Join a Writers Groups

Writers Tip #72: Don’t Worry About What Others Think

10 Tips from Toxic Feedback

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, adjunct professor, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

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4 thoughts on “Seven Reasons For and Three Against Critique Groups

  1. Yes, writer’s critique groups are tough, and often don’t offer the help we really want. I agree with you, Jacqui, that the comments made regarding other stories than my own are often more helpful than the ones made for my work. I suspect that’s because my defenses are not up and I’m listening better. I’m glad you found 4 reasons more that belonging to a group is a good idea than the reasons for not.

  2. In high school I was part of a playwright’s workshop. We would each be working on our own scripts for one act plays and we’d be expected to come in each week with a new draft or a new scene. We’d then hand out the scripts to members of the group and they’d do a staged reading of it. After that, we’d sit around and discuss it — the people who read the parts would talk about how authentic the dialog felt or how the action felt, the people who simply watched would discuss how the overall feeling of the scene was, etc. The teachers who were coordinating all of it would also chime in with their thoughts. As someone who primarily wrote comedy and science fiction, I could usually handle the comments because in that sort of scenario, if a joke didn’t work, it didn’t work. The thing was that sometimes the students got the jokes but the teachers didn’t, so that added to the discussion as well.

    One year, I went outside of my model and wrote more of an emotional drama about a high school kid going through a tumultuous life. It was a hard script to write in the first place, but then seeing the students put it on in front of me, then sitting through the comments was really tough because I had a much more personal attachment to the characters given how close to reality and how close to my own life they were. It was actually kind of excruciating to go through and I ultimately abandoned the script.

    Bottom line here for me is that my opinion is groups such as this are fantastic if everyone is there with the purpose of being helpful and being helped. If we take it too personally, though, it can be detrimental. So you do have to have a somewhat thick skin.

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