NOTE: These tips also work for individual critiques. Check out The Critique Circle at FaithWriters.
How to Get the Most Out of a Critique/Critique Group
By Suzanne Hartmann
1. Realize that your writing isn’t perfect.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised. You have spent so much time and poured so much effort into your writing. You have read up on the craft of writing. You have revised and polished your work until it shines. What can your new critique partners possibly find wrong with your writing except minor typos? It’s easier than you think to fall into the trap of thinking that there’s not much wrong with your writing.
The truth is that you submit your writing for critique to find your mistakes, not to receive affirmation that your writing is perfect. Yes, there will be some affirmation and encouragement along the way; we all need that too, but the main reason we participate in a critique group is to find our mistakes and learn how to fix them. Your critique partners will point out the imperfections you are unable to see.
2. Understand that the people in your group want to help you.
Receiving critiques can be hard, especially when you are a new writer and receive critique after critique that points out flaws in your work. It can be tough. But your partners are not trying to make you feel bad or putting you down to be mean. They point out the flaws in your writing for your benefit.
Sometimes it can be as hard on critiquers to point out something they see wrong as it is to receive the information. Sometimes they worry that you will take it wrong or that you will hate them or that it will put you over the edge and make you want to quit. Generally, they will risk being hurt by your reaction because they know the information is for your benefit and that changing your writing to fix the problem will make your work better.
Yes, critiques can hurt, but It is much better for a critique partner to point out your mistakes than a potential agent or editor somewhere down the line…in a rejection letter (if they take the time to explain why they are rejecting your work).
3. You will learn more from honest comments than feel-good fluff
We all love to receive critiques telling us our writing is wonderful, the story is great, and the critiquer can’t wait to read more, but affirmation isn’t the reason we joined a critique group (although it is a nice side benefit when it happens).
Going back to #1 in this series, we join a critique group because we know our writing isn’t perfect. We want and need to have people find our mistakes. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll never receive any affirmation. Knowing what you do well is helpful also. A critiquer’s main job, however, is to find your errors, the places where the writing doesn’t flow, and the sections that just don’t make sense.
Yes, it’s good to receive comments that say you’ve got a wonderful voice, your writing flows well, and there weren’t many mistakes…as long as that’s the truth. Feel-good fluff that has no basis in truth, or comes from someone who’s afraid to hurt your feelings isn’t going to help you improve your writing. Finding your mistakes and listening to suggestions on how to fix them is how you will learn and make your writing better.
4. Be willing to learn
Once again, this ties in with #1—you must realize that your writing is not perfect. If it’s not perfect, then there will be mistakes to fix. If there are mistakes to fix, you need to learn how to correct them. As mentioned in #2, your critique partners will often not only point out your errors, but will also show you how to fix them. If they don’t, and you don’t understand what you’ve done wrong or how to correct it, by all means, ask! Your critique partners are there to help you learn.
But don’t rely on critiquers to find every single mistake. You’re much better off to learn to detect the mistake yourself so you can fix it before you submit to your group. Eventually you will become so used to the correct way to do it that you will rarely make the mistake any more.
5.You don’t have to agree with everything in a critique
Writing is a subjective activity and opinions will vary. What strikes someone as creative may be confusing to someone else. Also, your critique partners will have varying abilities with grammar and understanding of writing style. As you come to know your partners, you will learn the strengths and weaknesses of each and can accept their advice accordingly.
This post is part of a series called “Top 10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Critique Group” on Suzanne’s writing blog, Write This Way. Read the whole series here.
SUZANNE HARTMANN is the author of PERIL: Fast Track Thriller #1, and Write This Way: Take Your Writing to a New Level, a blueprint for new authors to guide them through the process of writing and revising a novel.
Suzanne is a homeschool mom and lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and three children. When not homeschooling or writing, she enjoys scrapbooking, reading, and Bible study. On the editorial side, she is a contributing editor with Port Yonder Press and operates the Write This Way Critique Service.
LINK for Write This Way: Write This Way Blog: http://suzanne-hartmann2.blogspot.com/2007/01/write-this-way-take-your-writing-to-new.html
LINKS for Suzanne:
Facebook – Suzanne Hartmann – Author
Twitter – @SuzInIL