Many writers are simply looking for feedback on their work, whether or not their plan is to get published. For this reason, many writers either join or start their own critique group.
A critique group provides a safe, supportive environment where writers can do exactly that—critique each other’s work and offer suggestions for improvement and to “tighten” the piece. This helps to iron out any rough spots or point out some areas that just don’t sound right (for example, a story set in a Civil War hospital certainly wouldn’t include penicillin or anesthesia). Critique groups are often informal, with some members who drop by once and never make another meeting, or more formal, with a core group of attendees who thrive on the camaraderie and support of other writers.
Here are 5 ways to make the most of joining a critique group:
Have a piece to critique. It’s hard to get feedback on something you haven’t written yet. Some folks join a critique group thinking it will help them start writing—although it may jumpstart the muse, the truth is, the point of a critique group is having a piece to critique!
Bring enough copies for the other members. A lot of people don’t do well with having something read to them—they need to read it for themselves. Be sure to bring enough copies of your piece so that the other members can write comments or just have something in-hand for reference as you work on making it better.
Be honest. If you’re not “buying” something in another writer’s piece, say so. They’re part of the group so that they can improve their work—the comment you’re afraid to share with them just might be something that helps them strengthen their story.
…but not too honest. You may not want to blurt out “That’s the biggest piece of crap I’ve ever heard!” , even if that’s really what you think. The idea is to give constructive criticism, not brutal, hurtful comments that could likely discourage the writer from even finishing the piece. Think about it—would you want your work slashed to pieces?
Don’t take the feedback personally. Let’s face it—artists are sensitive folks, and putting your work (and, by extension, yourself) out there for the world to judge is not an easy thing. It takes some practice to separate yourself from your work—just remember that the other group members are there to help you improve your work, not judge you personally. This is a great training ground if you do decide to pursue publication and send your work out to agents or editors—it helps to develop a thick skin early, so that the pros’ comments (which may not be so encouraging) won’t be completely devastating.