1 is the loneliest number that you’ll ever know and it is especially true in writing.
I wrote for five years in solitude. Then I finally broke down and joined a writers’ group. I met my mentor (Heather) and grew as a writer exponentially. She taught me things like conflict, plot, protagonist (seriously) and also pointed me to some really good books on writing, which laid out all those tricky devices that I had been experimenting with, but had never mastered.
And this is why I am a cheerleader for a CONSTRUCTIVE critique group. Good groups are made, not necessarily found. Being apart of various groups over the years–from college classes where the writers are amateur and the criticism is biting, to a mish-mash of writers all writing in different genres– I have learned a few things about how to create a good group. Here are just a few…
Genre: While it may not be necessary for you all to be writing in the same genre, it certainly can’t hurt. For instance, if you are a Middle Grade writer in the midst of adult writers (any genre), there are things they will not get. For instance, why it may be necessary to get to the conflict within the first chapter, why age and description of the protagonist is important, why slang is acceptable, and on and on. Likewise, I write YA. If a children’s book author came looking for me to critique their manuscript, I wouldn’t know much past punctuation. Of course there are elements that translate across the board, but there are so many nuances of genre that make crossing over slightly more difficult.
Respect: I cannot stress this one enough. Constructive criticism is always respectful and never one-sentence long. If you are going to tell a writer that their protagonist is unlikable, make sure you have examples of how and why. Because saying you don’t like something just isn’t as good as telling why. We all want to make our writing better and criticism paired with suggestions on how to improve is so much more valuable than “in my opinion, this sucks.”
Consistency: Our writer’s group meets one evening a week. I look forward to our meetings all week-long. Sometimes we critique each others’ work, sometimes we write, sometimes we talk about publishing, marketing and the various facets of the biz. We often trade good reads and talk about why a certain book was good or bad. We are also in contact throughout the week via email, forwarding articles and blog posts, etc. And also, luckily for us, we are friends. And being friends allows us to have a rapport that is both playful and serious. It allows us to be FOR REAL and to know that when we say things that we may not want to hear, it is coming from a place of trust and compassion.
Praise: This one is sometimes forgotten. Never forget to mention to someone when they do something well. Writers are delicate creatures with fragile egos, or else they are fearsome giants with steel armor, sometimes both. But it’s important to let someone know when they are getting it right. Because who hasn’t been in the throes of revision, wondering what should be cut and what should be saved. Knowing what IS working is just as important as knowing what needs fixing.
That’s all I have for now. Please share your experiences on the Do’s and Don’ts of critique groups.