Importance of Critique Groups By J. Hali Steele

You know… critters. At least that’s what we call them. No, they’re not a bunch of little creatures running with nuts and looking for cover. Well, not most of them. Though we’ve been known to hide out when involved with a new WIP and the words simply fly from our fingertips.

Finding a group that fits you is very important. You’ll only grow as a writer if you learn the mechanics of writing. I remember reading somewhere that great authors weren’t born that way–they learned to write. This doesn’t mean not to attend classes, you should. But read, read, read. From all genres. Become serious about your craft.

You have a story to tell, so now you have to write it in a way that others want to read it. Nothing works as well as having someone (no, your mom, sister or best friends don’t count) look through your WIP with a fine tooth comb. The fun part is–you get to comb theirs.

It can be scary telling someone you don’t think something they wrote works or is passive and, ach! the dreaded back story. But it’s important to be honest in your critique. There’s no need to be brutal or disrespectful of someone’s creation. A few well thought out ideas or suggestions will go much further in teaching and helping. This is a very subjective industry. We all read books looking for something different. It’s not the difference we critique, or the author, it’s the mechanics of writing.

When I joined my first group, it literally scared me to death. I was getting ready to give my story, my baby, over to a total stranger to rake over the coals! What if they didn’t like what I wrote? What if they tell me to forget it, you’re terrible. All these things ran around in my head until I gathered my courage and posted the first chapter. And, boy, my first one was tough. She wrote, “watch the head hopping.” Then every other sentence there appeared a box to the side saying, “whose POV is this?”

I’ve since learned that little box to the side is a comment box. It’s used to give suggestions and comments, and if used effectively, it will help you to hone your craft. All kinds of good stuff can appear in that one little box. One day there was a comment to me from the same person that said, “Wow, this is good.” An encouraging note that told me I learned, I improved.

Without my critters help I’d probably still be sitting at my computer, all alone, struggling through another story and wondering why the hell my email was full of messages saying thanks but no thanks.

There are many groups out there who share their expertise in various genres, Google critique groups. Find one that fits you and always keep an open mind. You’ll only improve at what it is you love doing–writing. Remember: Grow and roar-it’s okay to let the beast out.

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