The Critique Epiphany

Sunday, August 31, 2014
I’ve written about critique groups before. But now, thanks to my recent epiphany, I have something new to say:

I need to be in a critique group.

Not exactly an earth-shattering epiphany, right?

After all, if asked, most writers would agree that a critique group is necessary. And most of the time, we strive to find critique groups or a critique partner. But occasionally, we give up on our groups when we encounter problems, or members move away, or plain, old laziness creeps in.

Maybe, like me, you’re going through a “critique groupless” stage, thinking you’ll be fine without a group. You’re a fairly disciplined writer and you’ve been at this business for a long while. You figure that your writing will take care of itself.

And if I’m being honest, much of my writing continued without any bumps. But my fiction writing…well, as we writers say, that was whole ‘nother story.

Without feedback, without accountability on the table, my fiction writing sort of drifted. What I judged to be mighty fine had little blips here and there. Though how was I supposed to know? No one but me was reading it.

Still, when a friend asked me to join her critique group, I demurred. I’d been in a group for three years and wasn’t sure I was ready for the monthly grind of reading other writers’ work, providing editing notes, taking time from my own work…believe me, I had a whole list of excuses. Maybe you do, too.

But I agreed to give a critique group another go, just to be polite, really. And the week before my first meeting, I remembered something sort of earth shattering, writing-wise:

When I have to get a manuscript ready for my peers, I work harder.

I think more about the writing craft, about the use of each word, about the plotting and the setting and the tone of the story. I step back with a more critical eye and wonder what the writers in my group will think when they read my paragraphs, my chapters. Is my title strong or tired? Is my concept unique or same old, same old? I think of the whys behind my writing, and I work a little harder to impress that room full of gifted writers.

So I need to be in a critique group. I need to feel that nervousness before someone reads my words. I need that feeling of triumph when a group of writers says, “Well done.” And if that same group of writers says, “I don’t get this part,” then I need to feel that push to keep at it until they do get that part.

Maybe you’re having your own epiphany right now, realizing that consistent accountability might be the way to better writing.

And maybe, like me, you’ll get yourself back to a critique group.

~Cathy C. Hall


Margo Dill said...

I could not survive without my critique group, The Lit Ladies. And actually, I have been so lucky to find a good critique group everywhere I've moved. It's helpful if you are part of a larger writing group, sometimes like SCBWI, so you can find like-minded writers to work with. :) Go get yourself to a critique group.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--I have the perfect solution (and I think you know what I'm going to say): move to St. Louis. I am sure the WWWPs would have room for a sixth writer.

Yes, you DO need to find one, because when you are not a critique group member, there are writers who don't benefit from your suggestions and your help.

I've been a part of two great groups in St. Louis and a couple of not-so-great ones. I know one thing for sure--I write more and I write better when I have the nudging of a critique group. (I guess that's two things. ;)

Find one. Soon.

Anonymous said...

Ditto everything you said. I'm fortunate to have a critique partner I trust, but I miss the benefits associated with a critique group, for all the reasons you've stated. And just aside from the craft aspect, it's nice to spend an hour or two with other writers, people who "get" the desire (ok, obsession) to write in ways that even the most supportive spouse cannot.

Cathy C. Hall said...

I thought I should add that I'm trying a new group, Margo and Sioux, so not to worry. I'm back in the critique group saddle!

And Lisa, I know what you mean about the most supportive spouse. Mister Man is behind me 100%--as long as he doesn't have to, you know, read anything! :-)

Linda O'Connell said...

I find I try harder when I am sharing with my critique group. They always find something to help me strengthen my piece. I have been in several not so good critique groups and two great ones, the present one makes me feel blessed to know so many great writers.

sally said...

same for me. I write so much more when I am in a crit group. I haven't actually written anything (other than lessons and speeches and blog posts) in four years. It's horrible. I am too busy, I say. But I will always be too busy. Ugh.

I need to find a good crit group. But that's the other hard thing--finding one you fit in well. Not always easy.

Debra Mayhew said...

Oh I know you need a new group...of course you do...but I'm feeling all emotional now. (I told you not to make me cry!) Your new group will be lucky to have you. And yes, you're so right about this. My writing has lapsed a bit and I think it's time for me to find a group, too.

Anonymous said...

I've been part of an online critique group (the Critique Circle) for nearly 6 years now and I'm enjoining every bit of it.

I had never thought that I might be working harder when I post chapters on the site, but I'm certainly more aware of the implications to confront with others than I once was. Same as you say. Will they understand this passage? Will they get her/his reasons? This alone straighten our writing, I think. It surely did in my case :-)

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