I recently spoke to a new writer who didn’t see the point of a critique group.
There might be people who can write outstanding fiction without feedback. Maybe experienced authors with lots of novels under their belts. Maybe someone who’s studied writing for years. Maybe an outlier — a newbie who has a gift.
But most of us live too closely with our work-in-progress to know what’s really on that page when it’s “done”. We’ve revised. Maybe the plot has changed since our original outline. Maybe we’ve changed a character’s name or backstory, or added new characters. What’s in our heads NOW isn’t necessarily what’s on that page when someone new reads it. Only a critique group or beta reader can tell you how your work comes across to a new reader.
“But why should I change my novel based on someone else’s thoughts?”
This is a great question. The answer is: You don’t have to change a single word of your novel. It’s your world, your characters, your story you’ve lived and breathed maybe for years.
But you’re going to WANT to change it.
A good critique group approaches feedback NOT with the intent of making your writing just like everyone else’s. (If this is how your group functions, then run.) Instead, their feedback should help you make your story the best it can be.
Are you doing things that detract from the clarity of your sentences? Is the plot twist you are so proud of in Chapter 20 really clear to the reader? Does your main character come off as loyal and proud or just conceited? These are the kinds of things it really helps to know before you send your story off to an agent or publisher.
I don’t change my story with every bit of criticism I receive. But well-considered comments received from someone outside my own head can help clarify my thoughts about my story, like silt settling out of water. The value of this is huge.
That said, there can be a downside to over-reliance on critique groups. I’ll link to this post by Kristen Lamb, who explains it all much better than I can.
Good luck on your writing!
My critique group is a wonderful bunch of speculative fiction writers who’ve played a big part in helping me improve my work. I think a critique group is a tremendous help, especially for beginning writers. But once you’ve found a group you think will work for you, how do you make the most of the experience?
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Give them your best. – In a critique group, people spend time reviewing and commenting with the intention of making your good work even better. Give them your best work: already spell-checked, and written to the best of your ability. Pre-check your work for things like passive voice and repeated words and any other bad writing habits you know you fall into. Then your group’s feedback will focus on things that matter to you, instead of on trivial things.
Put in the time. – One of the things that surprised me was how much I learned from critiquing other people’s work. Give a good critique. It’s not wasted time. BUT:
Be jealous of your writing time. – As important as critique groups are for new writers, your writing time comes first. When the time demands become too much, it’s time to think about strategies your group can use to cut the workload a little.
Learn how to accept comments. – You’re not going to agree with every comment on your work. Your group will come at your work from many different angles and provide all kinds of feedback. Some might give you negative feedback – that can be hard to accept. But barring attending a workshop, this is the best chance you’re going to have to receive insight from other writers – and other writers look at things very differently from family and friends you may have asked to be first-readers.
Your work is your work. – In the end, it’s your story. You won’t use every suggestion you’re given. Give every comment consideration, because your reviewers are coming at your story with fresh eyes, but don’t turn your story into someone else’s fiction. The purpose of the group is to help you make your work even better, not turn it into a clone of someone else’s work.
Good luck on your writing!