When you’re a writer, people always recommend you join a critique group. I remember, senior writers used to suggest I join one when I started out, and now, many years down the track, I recommend the same thing to others. But, why?
1: It’s that right-minded support that lifts us onwards.
One time, at a writing conference, a new author got up for her acceptance speech. Upon receiving a prestigious award, she said, “I wouldn’t be standing there without my critique group.” I remember thinking, does a critique group make that much of a difference? The year was 2011.
At that stage, I still hadn’t found the right group that felt like a fit, so the benefits of the critique group had failed to impact on me. Critique groups were an enigma I didn’t properly understand for the first few years of my attempts to participate. But then, I held a lot of my work back, and only submitted short pieces I was experimenting with rather than committed to. I didn’t trust the process enough at that stage to release into full immersion.
I started the networking group, “Writing for Children,” through Kristen Lamb’s, Wanatribe site, in 2012, and started to make friends with other writers. We were an instant mutual support system. They felt like family. Through the connections I made there, I met amazing author, Maria Cisneros-Toth. We both wrote for the same genre (Middle-Grade to Tween) and because trust was established, I shared with her my actual primary work-in-progress, ‘The Or’in of Tane Mahuta.’ That was the first time I surrendered fully to the critique process.
Right away Maria embraced my world and my story. Maria told me in no uncertain terms that I could write and she believed in me. Boy, that was just the injection of faith in myself I needed. I set to work with gusto. My confidence blossomed. And later, our critique group of two grew.
2: It’s working together side-by-side on our stories that builds relationships.
Having a functioning critique group is about having a live support mechanism. A member of my mailing list asked me how I managed to get a supportive network around me. I said you can’t sit back and expect people to come to you; you’ve got to go out and meet them. It’s just like when you go to a party. If you stand in the corner and don’t talk to anyone, you’ll be miserable. The onus is on you to make the first move. Go to social media hubs, like LinkedIn, and Goodreads, and Google+, and participate in conversations on message boards. You soon meet people. You start give-and-take relationships. You treat people the way you want to be treated and friendships naturally grow.
3: The critique group’s variety of viewpoints and opinions act like a small test group representing the viewing public.
With my story, I had done a lot of “world building,” yet I had lived with the story for such a long time, that a lot of facets of this world were familiar to me and made perfect sense. Showing this unique imaginary realm to my critique group was the first real litmus test. That was when the questions began. Why this? How that? I realized very quickly that in a number of areas, more explanation was needed, more clarity, and in some cases, new solutions.
This slice of the reading community giving you feedback, can be the difference between an idea working in the real world of the reading public, and not. You soon find out what works and what fails, and you get precious feedback on everything.
4: Giving critique to others hones our own writing skills.
Of course, at the same time, you’re giving critique too. When I did my first course in critiquing children’s fiction with Kate de Goldi, in 2007, Kate told all of us, in no uncertain terms, that learning to critique was as important as the writing. It was a skill we needed to practice, she told us. Learning to pull apart other people’s fiction editorially would hone our own fiction.
I have come to feel a truly vast appreciation for the benefits of critique. I know what the new author meant when she said in 2011, that she wouldn’t have been standing on that podium if it weren’t for her critique group. I can say my book, ‘The Or’in of Tane Mahuta’ would not be sitting on my bookshelf if it wasn’t for mine.
Do you have similar stories to share of your amazing friends, or your supportive critique groups?
Keep on Creating!
Yvette K. Carol
“Revision is a personal thing, and it’s easy to become confused with too much input. You have to decide who to trust, but never just blindly do what you are told. Ultimately, you have to be your own North Star, while trying to understand and internalize the things that your readers might be responding to.” ~ James Preller