Me and my friends’ Kim (Williams-Justesen) and Joe (Ostler) talked about forming our own critique group for many months before we ever got together and actually did it. The trouble was that the project Kim and I were collaborating on was very high in gore and horror, and I, being the nice guy I am, didn’t feel comfortable corrupting poor Joe by subjecting him to the nastiness and raw morbidity of our story, (little did I realize at the time that Joe has his own unique brand of deviance ~ but hey, I was trying to be nice!) Just kidding, Joe. 😉

So, as Kim and I wrapped up An Evil Heart, we both began new (and far tamer)  projects which we used in our critique group of three. The interesting thing about our group is that I write Horror/Supernatural, Kim writes for Middle Grade and Young Adult, and Joe writes Sci-Fi/High Fantasy, so the contrast of our styles creates a fun dynamic. The three of us were only able to meet twice though. I am leaving the state in two days from now, but we plan to continue the group through Instant Messenger and e-mail, but already, in the short time I have been a participant of a critique group, I have learned a good deal.

A critique group is an assembly of writers who’ve come together for the purpose of gaining insight and feedback from other writers, and no matter how good a writer you may be, there can be no arguing the benefits of being part of one. Critique groups may be as large or small as the group desires. They may be done face to face, over the phone, or online.

The beauty of the critique group is that however polished a writer may be, he or she will undoubtedly overlook some necessary detail at some point in his or her story. The other member’s of the group will hopefully be able to see these snags and help the writer smooth them over. Editors, agents and publishers don’t want raw and sloppy rough drafts. They want polished, revised material that has been read and critiqued, preferably a few times over. A critique group can help a writer be sure that the material he or she sends to an agent or editor is clean, concise, and professional.

     There are however, those groups of writers who do not have their fellows’ best interests at heart. I’ve heard many horror stories about really nasty critique groups whose members were apparently more interested in stroking their own egos than becoming better writers. These kinds of folks undoubtedly run rampant in writing communities worldwide. These kinds of writers aren’t hard to spot and should be avoided at all times. When someone works up the courage to allow his or her work to be viewed by others, I think we need to respect the vulnerability of the writer. That’s not to say that honesty isn’t imperative, it absolutely is, but honesty in and of itself does not need to be cruel. Writer’s are up against enough rejection and damage without having his or her peers standing in line to take turns crushing him or her. Critique groups should be constructive and supportive, and if they aren’t, find a new one. End of story.

Critique groups are as good (or bad) as the members make them, and I am grateful to have a pretty good, albeit very small, group of trusted writers to share my work with. It’s a disconcerting and unfortunately very necessary thing to lay your heart out and ask to be critiqued. To find just a handful of people who I feel comfortable asking feedback from is a wonderful thing.

     The world in general loves to give its opinion and whether you ask for it or not, you are going to get it. The trouble is, you have to be very careful who you listen to. The way I see it, you can divide the world’s population into three groups. The first (and probably largest) group, are those who really just don’t much care whether or not you succeed or fail. The second group is what I call the “cockroaches”. These guys will go out of their way to try to sabotage your success and sense of self-confidence. And the third and final group is the group you need to stick with. These are the folks who want to be better people themselves, and who want to help you become a better person.

So if you are thinking of joining or creating  your own critique group, my advice is to be sure you are among good company because, as important as it is to get feedback from other people, it’s even more important that you don’t give up on writing at the hands of someone who took it upon him or herself to let you know how bad you suck. We all suck or have sucked at some time or another. Totally sucking is the first step of good writing, so if you have to suck, why not suck with the best of them? 🙂

Write on.

  1. Linda Bennett says:

    I certainly do wish the three of you all the best! Good Luck with the new projects, may God bless you always.

  2. Ariel Marie says:

    I agree, and this is why I gave up on local writing groups a long time ago: there is such tight control here by the ‘sponsors’ (aka community censors) and ‘facilitators’ (aka egos who can’t tolerate anyone but themselves doing well –unless you give them large-print named tribute on the work which you do). I was very fortunate to luck into a site that was a live worldwide writer’s workshop the very first time I went online and Googled a short description of what I had in mind for genre. The downside being that the interest of those there (including my longterm editor and chief encourager) was tightly limited to two genres, although there was plenty of expertise in many genres, styles and fields among them.

    Then came one of my friends dragging me onto FB, lol…..for over 6 months I had a page that he set up for me with my picture and a different name on it that I literally only was on nights when he was there to socialize with me. Then I decided to take a risk and take the name I was writing under and make an FB page for myself….and the reaction to that was so overwhelmingly positive and constructive, I have been an active ever member since. What I like about FB is the volume of feedback that you can get, including technical input if you ask for it form all different demographics. Literally talking to people from all over the world everyday is also priceless research into what will do well in their country/culture, and what will require a different version or marketing angle. Yet even when that isn’t what you’re going for, it’s nice to be able to have that support base, irrelevant of what stage you’re at with your craft.

    Things like this used to be called Guilds, and I am a big proponent of bringing the system back. Guilds functioned not only to continually renew and increase the skill of the artist’s specific art, but also to form a real community that networked people together into pods that collectively support and promote everyone in it. It was a win-win-win for the artisans/apprentices, sponsors/locales and public/consumers. I’m actually moving next year, on contract, to establish this kind of a community for the 4-Corners region. There should never be a lack of encouragement or practical resources out there for any kind of artist to be what they are, I’m really passionate about that. Hopefully it will be our generation, Jared, that brings about this new kind of Renaissance 😉 xx

  3. Mimi Williams says:

    This little group is a wonderful blend. We really do compliment each other, and with our online ability, we will continue to help each other in meaningful ways. I’m glad to be a part of it.

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