How Joining a Critique Group Can Make You a Better Writer

About two months ago, I began attending a Writing Group.

I often write at a Starbucks within a Barnes & Noble after I leave my day job. I do most of my writing outside of my home because it’s far less distracting. Often, the baristas will be preparing my coffee before I reach the counter. This particular day, I got a nice lead when I got to the counter.

“The usual?” the barista said, grabbing a grande sized, iced coffee cup.

I smiled. “Yeah. How’s everything?”

“Pretty good.” She returned my smile and checked off my order on the cup. “You’re here all the time. Do you come here to do homework?”

“No.” My smile widened. Everyone assumes I’m younger than I really am. I guess they don’t notice my grey hair. “I come here to write. I’m working on a novel.”

“Oh, that’s really cool!” she said then scanned my Barnes & Noble Member card. “You know there’s a writing group that comes here on Tuesdays?”

“Really? I’m usually here on Tuesday. What time do they meet up?”

“They’re usually here after you leave at around seven.” She gave the cup three squirts of raspberry flavor before filling it with coffee. “You should come by sometime and meet them. They seem nice. That’s $2.13.”

“Thanks.” I swiped my card. “I think I will come by. Thanks for letting me know!”

“Of course! Good luck with your book!”

Just my luck, right? The group meets up after I leave. Unlike my luck, someone let me know that the group existed. The week after, I decided to crash the meeting. I figure if they’re nice enough to let someone jump in and talk with them, they’re the kind of people who would be willing to help me move my writing to the next level.

For most of us, it’s really hard to put our work out there for someone to judge it. We spend a lot of time working on our art and it can hurt when someone doesn’t appreciate it as much as we do. This wasn’t the first time I’d let someone read my work. My wife sometimes reads my work when I ask and I share my writing online to a few people who read and give me critiques. I love sharing my work that way, but I still wanted an in-person experience. When I attended, I found that this was exactly what I needed.

I’d like to share with you what I’m getting out of the group. This is for those who are wondering if it’s worth it to join a writing group. My experience may not be the same as yours, but hopefully this will give you some perspective.

 

Observing The Group

The first time I attended, I didn’t bring anything of my own. It allowed me to get a feel for the group dynamic. I wanted to see the quality and type of writing in the group and how they approached the critique process.

I found that the quality of writing in the group was overall very high. It’s tough to put a hard rating on someone’s writing, but I found that the group isn’t filled with writers who have no skill or talent. I was dealing with writers (some of which have published) who were serious about their craft.

I also found that the types of writing in the group is very diverse. Some write YA and Middle Grade fiction. Some write poetry and some short stories. Someone is even working on a screen play. This kind of diversity is good, in my opinion, because a group of writers who all write one type of story might be less helpful than a more diverse group.

Last, I found that they each read 5-6 pages of their work aloud while the others follow along and write in edits and comments. This meant that I needed to print out copies for everyone in the group. This was slightly disappointing at first because I knew it might be costly to print out a 300+ page book 10-12 times, but I also understood the practicality of it.

After the person in the hot seat finishes reading, the group then discusses what works and what isn’t working. They talk about the writing and help with suggestions to bring it up to a more professional standard.

 

How The Group Is Helpful To Me

I’ve been attending every week for about 2 months now. Each time, I bring in a scene I’m working on and Each time, I walk away with knowledge that will help me push my stories much further than I could have on my own.

One of the best things is that the group is really diverse. No one there writes exactly what I write or how I write. This is great because if I can get someone who doesn’t normally read my genre to like it, I’m well on my way to crafting a story that is deeply compelling.

There is also a diversity of experience in the group. A few are seasoned writers and are very skilled at identifying what’s not working with a story. A few are really good at catching grammar and syntax mistakes. Some are really good at encouraging you to keep at it.

Though I wasn’t stoked to print out 50-100 pages every week, I get my money’s worth back in editing. This doesn’t negate the need for a professional editor, but you do get a lot of cleanup work done for the price of printing the story out. My editor will love that a lot of the little mistakes have already been taken care of. This way, they will be able to focus on the final 10% that will push the story to be extraordinary.

I noticed that most everyone in the group has something different to say about the writing. Not everyone will agree on some points. Sometimes someone will point out a detail that you never realized was there. These kinds of comments can bring forth a new layer that you can then massage into a great story idea.

More often, though, many of them will agree when something is truly not working in the story. When multiple people tell you that the same thing is bothering them about your work, it’s worth addressing.

One other big thing I found to be useful is the real-time reactions to the story. If you placed something in your story that’s meant to be funny and you don’t get a chuckle, your humor might not be landing. The direct responses after reading a scene are very valuable. The readers don’t really have a chance to sleep on what they read. @@It’s the in–the–moment feedback that can tell you a lot about how your pacing and emotional triggers are working.@@

 

Where You Can Find a Writing Group

If you’re interested in trying this kind of critique group out yourself, I want to toss you a few places to look for them.

1. Conventions, Conferences & Seminars

2. NaNoWriMo Forums

3. Meetup.com

4. Writing Social Networks and Forums

5. Facebook & Google+ Groups

6. College & University Campus Groups

It’s not always easy to find other writers who you can share your work with and get useful suggestions. Take some time to look around your community and see what you can find!

Sometimes you'll have a hard time finding a good group of talented individuals who can comment on your work. If it happens that you can't find an in-person critique group, you may want to look into finding feedback online.

 

What About You?

I hope this helped give you some perspective! If so, please share this with someone who might need it.

Have you ever been apart of a writing group?

Are you considering joining one?

Leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!