There comes that point in every writer’s life when they need to seek out feedback from someone who doesn’t love them. Why? Well, it’s simple. The people who love us don’t want to hurt us, and telling us how badly our treasured manuscript sucks, well – that will hurt.
Finding a good critique group can be hard. You have to have the right mix of people. Pro authors don’t always want a newbie in their group because they’re passed the point of dealing with tense issues and comma placement. Newbie authors don’t know enough yet to be constructive in their critiques. Finding the balance is the hardest part.
I co founded a new critique group last year. I don’t talk about it much. Or I feel like I don’t. My contribution was, in part, laying out the foundation of what the group will be about and how it would approach critiques in general.
It’s going to sound strange at first, but the core for me was kinda simple: critique the story, not the person. I mentioned this to someone recently and they replied, “No. You have to critique the person or else how will they learn that they’re wrong and need to change?” See – that right there – that’s a problem. A big one. If you can’t separate the author from the writing, how can anyone trust you or your opinion? At that point, you’re letting your personal issues and hangups inform your critique, and that’s wrong for oh so many reasons.
Let’s create a scenario. You meet someone and you have that moment where you instantly dislike them. It happens. So does the opposite, where you instantly love them. My brother is the kind of guy people just love. They gravitate to him. He’s a fun guy to hang out with. Put a guitar in his hand and he’ll play pretty much anything you request – and people love it. That doesn’t mean he can write a book. So, you meet someone and they just rub you the wrong way. You dislike them as a person. They hand you a manuscript for critique and it’s the best thing you’ve ever read.
The person above who said you have to critique the author – how are they going to react? Will they write an honest critique talking up the strong points of the piece? Or will they try and tear the author down? Sadly, I’ve seen more of the latter than I like to admit. I’ve been shocked to learn that people ripped apart a manuscript that was universally liked. Why? Because the critique was intended to go after the author and wasn’t at all about the words on the page.
That is so, so wrong.
So that was my core tenant, the one that was most important for me when co founding a new group. From there, you have to look at other factors. You want diversity, and diversity means a couple different things. You want men and women, people of color, young and old. Also, you want people who don’t read what you write – at least a couple of them. Those insights can often be invaluable.
When people bring up critique groups, they often add, “…and there aren’t any in my area.” Okay. That might be true, and it might not. I don’t know your area. But I know that meetup.com exists. I know you (probably) have a book store, and maybe a library? You might be surprised to learn that these places are wonderful resources for finding writing groups near you.
If all else fails, check online. Lots of virtual groups exist, and although I prefer the face to face kind of group, if virtual is the only group available to you, I say – sign up!
What do you think? Yes to critique groups? No? Indifferent?