I love my critique groups! Did I see you cringe? Are you shying away from them because of harsh comments from a previous experience? Have you ever visited one? I am a fan of critiquers, and I hope you will be, too. Though it did take a while to get comfortable with them as a writer, and an understanding on my part of what I was willing to accept as feedback, commonly known as critiquing.
A few evenings ago, I brought a short story I’m crafting to share with one of the groups for the first time. It’s experimental fiction full of clichés and stereotypes, but I wanted to challenge myself: can I write a character-driven story in spite of those no-no’s?
Many times I bring character journals, poems, flash fiction, or a handful of pages from one of my novels-in-progress. The group never knows what to expect, though they always receive it honestly. There was a time when I wouldn’t expose drafts, or works I’d never revised, because I wasn’t ready for the critical comments I thought would be hurled my way.
Now, I take advantage of the readers in the group…just to see if a plot point is meshing or characters are three-D. This is the unique opportunity critique groups offer. They are a way to sift out the successful ideas, as well as the discrepancies in my writing, by getting the input of other, non-like-minded folks. Readers: like the real world.
After our meeting that evening, a colleague shared with me he’s attempting a personal experiment, too. Different, yet just as difficult. His challenge is to cut the word count by half each time it is edited. The yield: A short story so tight it squeaks from polishing! I soon found out this work will not be read to our group. Why not? Because it is not critique-worthy. After all, it’s an exercise, not something up for an award – yet.
Ah, what does that mean? Writing should always be critiqued, right? In my humble opinion, no. One should reserve the option to hear no evil. When working through an exercise, not everything is on the table for everyone’s eyes. A writer must weigh emotional attachments with the comments s/he might receive at any critique group to determine if the result is worth the risk.
Only you know what you are ready to hear about your writing. What if someone suggests you start the chapter three-quarters of the way in, flip the beginning to the end, and not reveal a secret until the next chapter? Or, what if two people suggest you edit out the one line you believe ‘makes’ the story? How about changing the title, if one person recommends it? Does the timeline need some tweaking, or does a character fall flat for two or three readers in the group?
Are you ready for criticism, both positive and negative? If not, a critique group may not be for you. Perhaps, though you’re comfortable having work scrutinized, turned inside out, and marked up with red ink. Remember high school English class? Okay, this may be extreme, but one should be prepared for the occasional rabid critiquer – who roams around hoping to catch a writing error. Grammar police gone wild. Every group has one or two.
So, an approach to try if you’re a newbie or a scarred former member of a critique group: be aware of negative feedback one may receive and just don’t hear it. It’s in the delivery, after all. Some folks know how to be gracious and others never practice basic manners. However the benefits outweigh any not-so-kind comments. Most critique groups are affordable to attend, often at little or no cost, and enable you to hear directly from readers. The reader is always our target audience. And those people are valuable nowadays.
My advice, find a critique group: don’t squander this precious commodity 🙂
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