Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Do Critique Groups Truly Serve a Purpose?

   Last week, just prior to our monthly writers critique meeting, I received an e-mail from the person who runs the group asking if I could take over for him since something had come up. I agreed with a certain amount of apprehension since I have never been in that position before.
   The experience was not what I expected. It was interesting to see how things work from the other side of the desk, so to speak. We always have a couple of new writers show up every month and it was not surprising that they would look to me, as the facilitator, as knowing more about writing than they. What was interesting was how the older members of the group saw me differently just because I sat at the head of the table and not beside them.
   I have always enjoyed helping others when I'm able so I hope my suggestions were of some benefit to them. Anyway, just something I wanted to share but now it's time to move on to the real purpose of this post.

   Maybe once you become a best selling author, you will feel that a critique group is no longer necessary. For the rest of us however, I believe critique groups are an important step in our journey to becoming the best writer we can be.
   I just don't think that we can be truly objective when it comes to our own writing. It requires someone who does not have a vested interest in your story to look at it with a non-biased eye. Sometimes we are so enamored with the special trees we have planted that we can't see what a mess our forest has become.
   A successful critique group is one that does not bother with word for word line edits. That job is reserved for a professional editor. A successful group also does not focus on the writer but on the writing. That's not to say that if you see the writer consistently use a word out of context or make the same grammatical error over and over, you don't comment on it. The group should look at all the parts that make the story whole.
   Our group tries to follow a basic set of questions when writing a critique. Are the characters believable and interesting? Is there enough action or tension to keep the story moving? Is the plot consistent or does it wander all over?
   I believe the role of a critique group is to identify a writer's strengths and weaknesses. Praise for parts of the story that worked well and constructive feedback on the parts that fell flat. Suggestions on how to re-word a sentence or an example of proper grammar are acceptable but at no time will we re-write an entire section and tell the writer, "This is the way it should be written". At that point it becomes the voice of the person doing the critique, not the voice of the writer.

   My advice to writers is to find a critique group that will help you grow or at the very least, a critique partner who isn't afraid to tell you your writing stinks and is willing to help you make it better. It might take several tries to find the right group for you. If you are unable to find a group in your area, post a notice at the local library and establish your own critique group.

   As always, these are just my opinions and I hope you will find them useful.
   Good luck and keep on writing!
   The world is waiting for your story!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this interesting piece on critique groups, Roland. I am very fond of the writers group to which I belong and I agree with you that writers should seek to find the group that works best for them. In our group, critiquing is not our primary mission, but members easily seek out other members who are willing and able to critique works. At our meetings, we also share resources (editors, illustrators,etc.), experiences, news of progress, set monthly goals, discuss social media and promotional info and more. I also wrote a post about writers groups not too long ago; http://www.pamelamcovington.com/writers-support-group