I have to admit, it's been a while since I was part of a critique group. The one I'd been in for over a dozen years fell apart after the death of one of our members in 2018. Before it could be resuscitated, Covid hit and had all of us taking cover in our homes. Still, I think writing groups are valuable in helping us grow in skill, and the well-aimed critique makes us think and gives us tools for improving.
As I reflected on this topic, I came across this website, which raises a number of helpful points on how to critique well. I won't go into all of them here but simply highlight a few:
- Make your feedback actionable. If you're vague in identifying problems, the writer may not know how to resolve them, leaving her frustrated and uncertain. If you're clear, the writer can more easily move forward, assuming she agrees with your suggestions and corrections.
- Balance criticism with kindness. Accepting criticism is easier if it is done with the right attitude and delivered in the right tone. Our writing often feels like our "babies," and we can feel hurt when people point out flaws. So don't just identify what's wrong with a piece, notice what's right with it too. Explain what's lacking, convoluted, or incorrect, but also gush about what you loved.
- Keep it honest. If you want someone to say they love everything you've written, don't join a writers' group; show your work to your family members! To develop as an author, though, it's essential to receive honest critiques. Maybe you'll discover you need to work on grammar and punctuation or learn how to ask the right questions; maybe your issue is that you have trouble seeing the big picture; perhaps reading other writers in your preferred genre will prove helpful. Listen to what your writing friends tell you, sift through their suggestions, set your work aside for a bit, come back to it; trust your gut.
My old writing group has gotten together a couple of times for socials over the last two years but it hasn't revived to fulfill its original purpose. An attempt to rekindle a second former group is off to a faltering start as a couple of us are in seasons that make it difficult to write or to meet. At some point it will happen but that time isn't yet. Maybe it is for you.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on critique groups if you've been, or are, part of one. With online options, they no longer have to be in-person. What have you found works for you?
For more about Susan Barclay and her writing, please visit her blog: https://susan-barclay.blogspot.com/