A. Benedetti

Critique Groups-The Unexpected

In writing, participation in a critique group or critique partnership is essential. If you’re hesitating to make the leap to search out someone to review your work, stop waiting. Become proactive and find a partner or group. It will help you grow as a writer in ways you never expected.

There is too much to be learned from the experience to not make it a priority. My own group consists of writers with various backgrounds working on a variety of projects. I love the diversity they provide and we actively search for new members to help round out our differences. The feedback has been invaluable and took my manuscript to the next level. I also participate in writer’s groups on social media which provide access to many writers wanting to exchange work.

The basic structure of a critique group is simple. You submit pages to the group for review and in turn, you review their work. When I found the group that was right for me, I dove in, ready for feedback to improve my work. What I didn’t expect, was how much I was going to learn through the process of reviewing other people’s projects.

My boyfriend watches me fret when trying to get the critiques done for our meetings. I’m not going to lie. Doing these properly takes an enormous amount of time. But I work hard to provide the depth of feedback customary for my group. When I begin to grumble about not having enough writing time, he often says, “Are you trying to do too much? Maybe, you should leave the group.”

He’s right and he’s wrong. I AM trying to do too much. Anyone who works full time and tries to get a writing career off the ground is going to be overloaded. If they aren’t, they aren’t working hard enough on writing. But I WILL NOT leave the group. The reasons are simple. Not only do I receive feedback on my work and learn which mistakes come up often in my writing, I learn how to properly critique. And, how to apply those techniques to my own manuscript.

Critiquing sounds easy. But to do it well, with a thoughtful eye, isn’t. It’s easy to tear a book apart when there are obvious mistakes. The hard part comes in seeing WHY something isn’t working and HOW to fix it. It’s not helpful to point out errors if you can’t explain and give options to the author.

If you are still on the fence about joining a group or seeking out a partner, let me share all I’ve learned through the process.

  1.  How to critique not only other’s work but my own. When I read a book, I want to be immersed in the story. I hate thinking about grammar or whether this should be here or there or if this plot point is going to tie in later in the story. I let the words flow and trust the author to take me on the ride with them. When writing my first novel, this is how I looked at my work. Like a reader. Well, it’s really tough to be critical when you are immersed in the story. Especially one you are in love with. And let’s face it, if I spent all that time getting it on paper, you can be assured that I love it.
  2. There is no such thing as a perfect first draft. Or second draft. At least not for me. And, as I’ve learned, not for many others either. This doesn’t make someone a bad writer. Ninety percent of writing a novel is about revision. If we all published our first drafts, we’d have no readers left. (I apologize to all of my beta readers who suffered through those early drafts when I began writing novels. I know better now). My process evolves as I learn. Now, no one reads the work until I’ve made three passes at the manuscript. This does not mean it is perfect. It means it’s readable and ready for others to confirm my story works and that what is in my head is coming across on paper. If it’s not, then help me understand what needs to be addressed. Fresh eyes are always needed.
  3.  Not all feedback is created equal. It’s important to have other writers whom you respect and whose writing style you appreciate as your critique partners. If you’ve picked someone who specializes in poetry and you are writing a gruesome horror novel, it may not be a good match up. Everyone has a book their friends raved about as the next best thing and you pick it up and end up thinking, “Meh . . . take it or leave it.”  There isn’t something fundamentally wrong with the book. It’s just not a match with that person. Find someone or many someones who mesh well with you, your writing, and how you give feedback.
  4.  Sometimes, it will hurt. But it gets easier with practice. As I look back at those early drafts of my first novel, I can’t help shuddering at how awful they were. A few brave souls told me some things to fix. Then a few more. And, a few more. It took so many drafts to come up with something I still think needs a good round of edits. I’m not going to lie. The first few rounds of feedback were like little darts into my heart. But, like a good soldier, I kept going and asked for more. Now, my armor is in place and I beg for those darts. Give me everything you have. I can take it. I will do whatever it takes to have the best novel I can create.
  5.  Critiquing is not going to slow down progress on my other writing projects. I used to think I didn’t have time to critique other authors work. Now, I wonder how I could ever have been so foolish. I can’t afford to not be doing critiques. Sure, to accomplish it all, you must manage your time. But, the lessons learned from critiquing sped up my overall writing process. I’ve become accustomed to spotting common mistakes most authors make but also a lot of the less common ones. And I’m finding them in my own writing in drafts one and two. Of course, I’ll never be able to see them all and will need good critique partners for many years to come. But, the writing is improving that it’s not taking draft after draft after draft to clean up those common mistakes. Halleluiah!

I hope my experience will help you push beyond your fears and venture out with your work. Find your group or partner and bring the world the best work you can create. I can’t wait to read your stories!

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