Critique partners, writing buddies, torture pals. Whatever you call them, having some writer friends who can give you honest, constructive criticism on your work is necessary when revision time rolls around. We aren’t trustworthy when it comes to objectively reviewing our own creative writing.
This is why I joined a writers group earlier this year. Well, two reasons: 1) I wanted to force myself to share my WIP with other people, which means being vulnerable and brave. And 2), I knew that without a little feedback and direction, I was going to revise in circles because it’s impossible for me to know what’s good and bad. Your readers determine that stuff. We’re too biased and close to the writing to make those sorts of decisions.
So here are a few lessons I’ve learned these past months from attending a local writing group:
Knowing other writers helps keep you stable
Writing is a lonely occupation, and it’s damn hard. So when you’re struggling or feeling discouraged, or you’re excited about something you’ve accomplished, it’s good to reach out to other people who get it.
My writing group has been super supportive, and it’s nice to talk to other people who understand about word counts and character development and stupid stuff like that without them looking at me like I’m crazy.
Not everyone will be at your skill level
My writing group consists of 10 or so members, and every one of them is at a different skill level and has different interests. So while they’re critiquing your work, you have to decide whose opinions and thought processes match yours and whose don’t.
If you can find even two people whose criticisms are spot on, then your writing is going to be in better shape than it would be otherwise.
Critiquing other people’s work helps you learn
Most likely, your writing group will consist of beginners, which means you’re going to critique a lot of bad writing. Before you judge, yours is probably bad, too.
The good news is that pointing out the problems and areas for improvement in other people’s writing can teach you a lot about the writing process and how to avoid those kinds of mistakes. Because when you can recognize what’s boring, clunky, or ineffective, you’ll get better at detecting those sorts of flaws in your work. So try to keep this in mind while you’re waiting for your turn, and keep the groaning to a reasonable minimum.
There can be … drama (sigh)
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but writers are neurotic people. And chances are any writing group you join will be a mixed bag of lovers and haters of different genres whose personalities are going to clash.
This is going to happen. It’s inevitable. The best thing you can do is try to stay out of the drama and set a good example. Especially if you’re younger than other people in your group, you’re going to wonder how adults can be so immature. So try to be as fair and accepting as you can, because most writers are weirdos with baggage, and that counts you.
Diversity also means valuable perspectives
In my opinion, the more diverse the group, the better. Not everyone in my group likes fantasy, my genre of choice. Or is anywhere in my age range. Or knows a whole lot about writing techniques and story structure. But that doesn’t devalue their opinions.
Why? Because first of all, your readers may not be educated about these things, either. But if they’re bored with your story or don’t like a character that you wanted them to like, these are still valid problems. So before you gripe about them not understanding the depth and subtlety of your dialogue, remember that every reader is worth listening to, whether you act on their feedback or not.
Secondly, I’ve found that every member of my writing group — despite their strengths, weaknesses, and hang-ups — contributes at least one smart and valuable comment when they critique my work. Because they come from a different background and see the world another way than I do, they catch things I might not. And that’s the whole point of having critique partners in the first place.