The first time I walked into a writing critique group, I didn’t know a soul. As I sat down, my clammy fingers gripping a few pages of my most recent work, I remember silently praying, “Please don’t make me go first.” When my time to share did come, my voice sounded strange, hollow. The words coming out were foreign. I was bewildered, simultaneously thinking, “Wow, I wrote this?” and “Ugh, I wrote this?”
Luckily, I survived the ordeal. And I came home with a renewed sense of inspiration for the piece I had been toiling over for months.
By my third meeting, sharing didn’t feel strange anymore. In fact, I looked forward to giving a voice to my words and seeing how people reacted.
I was hooked.
I blazed ahead in a writing fury, meeting up with other writers weekly, sharing writing that was barely finished. The rendezvous were the gasoline that powered my writing car, so to speak. They propelled me forward, and I made friends I never would have met without my group. We all shared our work, asked clarifying questions, discussed our likes and dislikes, pondered sticky plot problems. My critique group became my most powerful motivating tool.
Then a bad thing happened.
I let a couple of harsh critiques immobilize my writing. I let them push me to the verge of discarding an entire manuscript.
I didn’t like my writing group anymore. I thought they were sucking me into the black hole of writer’s block.
I nearly quit.
It wasn’t the group’s fault my work suffered. I took some comments the wrong way. I went back and rewrote something over and over, when I should have simply moved forward, saving their suggestions for later.
It took another writer’s advice (a writer who doesn’t use critique groups) to break me out of my funk.
He told me he doesn’t show his work to anyone until it has been through one round of his own edits. He believes there are too many ways to pick apart someone’s writing when it’s in that delicate stage of the raw first draft. And comparing a raw first draft to other’s polished work is a recipe for a confidence killer.
I still continue to meet with my groups, but these days I don’t share my work in progress. I specifically choose works that have graduated to the second draft. Words that are malleable and ready to be rewritten.
I’ve learned you have to approach writing critique groups knowing that they aren’t infallible.
You’re going to have to discard some friends’ suggestions. And maybe they won’t like something… but that doesn’t mean you should discard it. If you join a critique group with that knowledge, you will be better equipped to use it to help your work, not hinder it.
The Pros and Cons of Writing Critique Groups
- They are motivating
- Help you build confidence
- Help you build friendships
- Help you clarify your writing
- You compare your writing to others’
- Rewriting causes you to lose momentum
- Meetings interfere with writing time
What about you? Do you love or hate writing critique groups? Why?
by Avery R. Dean