Writing Tip: Use the Mirror of a Critique Group

I have written before about how much I love my Critique Group. I stand by my statement that it just might be the best thing I’ve ever done for my writing.

The reactions of the readers are so valuable in the writing process. The group provides a mirror that shows lazy habits. We all have them – a specific turn of phrase that’s bouncing around in our heads as we write. We might have a system of using commas that’s not quite correct. Or a pattern of using the word “that” where it’s not needed. The mirror of the group shows transitions or information that’s missing. Writing is a solitary endeavor. A Critique Group brings it out into the open with much needed reflection.

After repeated sessions with the same people I get to know their style of critiquing. While writing, I think of what they might say and can make the necessary adjustments while the page is still fresh. Knowing that someone is going to read what I’m writing shines a brighter light on it, too. It makes me more sharp-eyed for the things I know they will catch. It’s made me a better, more careful writer.

In our process, we send pages ahead of our meeting, giving each reader the time to read carefully and make notes. This past month, I had a little time left over in my reading session and had my submission there, so I read it. I used the same sense of scrutiny and deep attention that I gave to their pieces. I found so many things that my cursory read before sending didn’t reveal. It showed me, once again, how valuable the critiquing process is in my writing.

The group also keeps me writing. I write for a living and to fill my Blogs. So it’s unlikely I would find the time to write for fun. I write fiction for my group and every month I must produce my pages.

It is also true that a Critique Group can be a safe place to share what you’ve written and receive plenty of encouragement. There is no one better to read your work (especially before it’s complete) than another writer. We are sensitive to putting down another’s work.  Nine times out of ten, if another writer is at all uncomfortable with what I’ve written, I know there is a problem, even if they don’t give me outright criticism. I can’t tell you how many times someone in the group has been able to get to the heart of what I was trying to say, where I was struggling. Given me the exact word I was searching for or help me find my way to saying it myself. We are the most forgiving, but also have the sharpest pencils, tuned up for this kind of reading. With a finer view and a sympathetic heart, another writer can find what we often miss in our own writing.

The Critique Group never tries to rewrite my work. They simply put up the mirror and ask questions like, “Is that really what you mean?” You can learn (and practice ) new ways to refine your work from this. It will never take the place of the perspective and choices of the author, but rather it acts as an enhancement.

Writers, unlike non-writers are less likely to tell you what you should say or write about. There is an understanding and respect for the fact that there are many ways a character or a story can express itself. We uphold another writer’s right to say it the way he or she wants to. We may suggest other ways, but never push. It’s just not done.

Another thing that’s NOT done is stealing. If you have any hesitation about sharing your work with others, don’t. Anyone who might try to pass your work off as theirs will not get far. They can’t repeat it if they didn’t write it in the first place. Borrowing techniques, on the other hand, is part of the exchange process.

A Critique Group is well worth the time invested. It can show you things about your writing you never knew. It teaches new methods of editing your work as well. And provides a much-needed support team before you make it to the big time, and a place to keep you humble when you do.

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