Joining a critique group is an important part of a writer’s growth. But it’s not easy. You’ll have to take time away from writing your book to critique someone else’s work. Why should do that? Because someone will do the same for you.
But critique groups are more than an exchange of chapters amongst their members. Critiquing another person’s work sharpens your editorial eye. The more you critique, the better you’ll become at self-editing. Most abilities improve with practice and this is no different. However, the act of critiquing isn’t the only thing that will teach you how to recognize problem areas and how to correct them. If your group is set up so each critiqued chapter is posted for all members to see, you’ll surely learn a thing or two from the way others critique. Maybe you’ll discover a new term, like buried dialogue. Or maybe you’ll see how one member always seems to find logic problems like, “How can he hit her with a bat when the bat is still in the living room and they’re in the kitchen?” The more you notice what the other members notice, the more you’ll train your eyes to do the same.
How is a critique group different from having beta readers go over your work? Generally speaking, betas won’t look at the small things or technical issues like grammar. They’re going to read the book in one shot, so they’ll look for big picture problems. This is important, but you won’t learn as much this way. Critiquing a few chapters at a time forces you to slow down and dissect each section. You can still see the big picture issues, but now you’ll notice little things like her eyes were green in chapter one and now they’re blue. Or you might find a scene that doesn’t work for you, but you can’t figure out why. If the critique is posted for the group, you can bring this up. Another member might be able to find the problem and suggest ways of fixing it. This is important because even in your own writing, there may be parts that don’t quite feel right but since you can’t spot the problem, you leave the scene as it is. With a critique group, you can ask for help. Or you can post the scene as it is and see if the members pick up on the issue.
There are other benefits of a critique group. You’ll have the chance to read the work of others for free. If you need to brainstorm, your critique group is there to help. Most of the time, there’s at least one member who excels in grammar. If your group follows a schedule, you’re locked into pumping out a certain amount of words during that timeframe. Talk about great motivation! Plus, the others will understand your struggles and support you during your journey to publication. This is something a writer really needs considering non-writers just don’t get it.
A critique group isn’t for everyone. While there are plenty of benefits of a crit group, there are also some disadvantages. We’ll talk about those in another post.
In case you missed my last post, I’m matchmaking critique groups. Tomorrow and Friday, I’ll post a questionnaire from a writer in search of a crit group or partner. Please spread the word. The more writers involved, the better your chances of finding a good match.