Notice how my posts tend to be titled with questions recently? That’s because things keep happening to and around me that make me question everything. It’s not a bad thing, I hasten to add. My part of this blog is to share experiences with you (while Raven just wants to tease you and chat about sex – meh). I honestly feel that it’s important to share and I can tell you, hand on heart, that I would not have been able to achieve the things I have without learning from other people’s mistakes. Anyway… that’s why. So don’t be surprised if the next couple of posts from me have a theme.
Anyway. Critique groups.
I’m a member of a fabulous critique group. I’ve mentioned them before and will do so often, not to brag about what I’ve done, but to highlight how grateful I am for what they’ve done for me.
The Phoenix Writers, operating out of The Phoenix in the cultural quarter of Leicester City has been my writing home since 2010. I’ve seen members come and go (mostly come and stay!) and, as a direct result of reading my work to them and hearing the work of others, my skills of improved at a rate I can’t even begin to measure.
So What is a Critique Group?
It might be easier if I start with what a critique group is not. A critique group is not:
- A place for you to show off
- A place to get your ego stroked
- A place to go to stroke other people’s egos
- A place in which anybody should be fearful that they aren’t good enough
- A place where you compete against each other (unless of course you’ve organised a friendly competition amongst yourselves that serves a purpose)
Naturally one might feel intimidated at times among their peers. I certainly do. When I read for the group my work and Raven’s work comes out of one mouth, for obvious reasons. As a writer of genre fiction I am actually in a minority, in that many others of the group write fiction that is outwardly perceived (not by members of the group, mind you, but by civilians [non members]) as higher quality, better class or generally superior to mine. I take my own insecurities to that group with me and whether or not they have any basis in fact, I deal with that as and when.
But! Even with that going on in my mind I still go. I go because the Phoenix Writers gives me:
- Kind, honest, thoughtful and PRODUCTIVE feedback on ALL of my writing
- A network of like minded people who get what it is like to do something you love that few people on the outside can ever really understand
- A dozen laughs a minute
There are plenty of other things I get from my critique group but I don’t have time to list them all. Those five points are the foremost in my mind because they are the most important.
What Does A Critique Group Do?
In my mind, any and all critique groups should do what I’ve described above. However, if you want a specific explanation, then it is this:
A critique group should provide a safe and friendly environment in which ANY writer from ANY genre should be able to meet with others to GIVE AND RECEIVE constructive criticism on their work.
That is the core of a critique group.
Raven has already talked about some of the experiences we’ve had, from her point of view, some of which fly in the face of that highlighted block of text. But I assure you now that those experiences are in the minority.
A critique group is there to help you. Support you. Nurture your skills. Some offer teaching while others focus just on critique and feedback. Some cater to specific genres while others are broad and far reaching. Some run workshops, competitions and regularly put together collections of members’ writings. Others simply meet in a coffee shop for an hour once a fortnight to read out their work.
There are lots of variations to the theme but that highlighted block of text is key.
Should YOU Join A Critique Group?
If, like me, you’re looking to publish (traditionally or self-publication) and don’t always have the funds to finance in depth, professional, developmental edits, then yes. God, yes!
Regularly reading your work to a bunch of other people will yank into the open plenty of issues that you may have missed with your text. After a time, your eye becomes blind to what is on the page and you need someone else to look at it with you. A critique group will do this with you and they will do it without stomping on you. A good group will do it without sugar-coating AND without making you feel like an idiot for describing a character as blonde and blue eyed in one chapter and brunette in another.
If you’re just writing for fun…? A critique group can still be useful. Writing can be such a lonely activity; you put yourself in a bubble and spend a lot of time in there with your own thoughts. Reminding yourself that you aren’t alone by going out and regularly meeting with others doing the same can be what keeps writing fun, rather than laborious and boring.
Anyway those are my thoughts on the matter. What about you guys? Are you a member of a critique group? What is it like? Are you looking for a group or gathering of people to chat to about writing? More than that, do you disagree with any of the points above? I’m curious to know if these are just my views or if other folk out there have a similar opinion on what critique groups are actually for.