victorian stange manI joined a writer’s critique group last fall. Hopefully my writing is better because of the experience. At least that’s what the other members are leading me to believe. This is a bit tongue-in-cheek because if everyone in the writers group is struggling to learn to write how can you trust someone’s opinion? I’m lucky, some of the members do write well. It is the ability to see the contrast between the different writers that adds value to everyone’s critiques.

Everyone has a different style or interest in the critiques they present. I can’t use a comma correctly if I tried. They keep working with me. I’m better, but punctuation is a skill I missed in school. When I critique I do a poor job with punctuation so I focus on story mechanics, plot line, and totem items used to help build the scene.

This shortcoming of mine forces me to address it as a weakness and work harder on those facets of writing. My strengths are hopefully what I bring to the table for the other members. My model of strengths and weaknesses highlights why a critique group is successful. It is that everyone brings different strengths. It is not necessary for a group to be staffed with dozens of masterful writers. What is necessary is for every member to present their strengths. It is a collective that survives by its many parts.

You had better have thick skin and the ability to take criticism. On the flip side, you need to be merciless in your critiques of others works. The two facets go hand in hand. You give they receive and then they give to you. It hurts at first. You will outgrow the pain and actually enjoy the beat down. Where it gets difficult is when the humor leaves the discussion table. At this point the critique tends to get personal. Keep your humor and a smile on your face or the barracuda will eat you.

Some critiques do their work in-line in Microsoft Word; some print the pages and use pencil. I am a pencil user. It is easier for me to see the big picture if I can flip pages. It also lets me do my critique work without being tied to the computer.

Five important things I learned:

  1. You will never be the best writer at the table. If you think you are you are probably not well respected by the group. Be humble.
  2. The more you write and submit the better you will become. You must produce and take your chance in the hot seat, no way around this.
  3. Someone will always take too long to give their verbal review. Be kind and maybe cut your review short to keep the meeting on schedule. The submitter can always read your review notes after the meeting.
  4. Get to the meeting early. Informal conversations with the other writers are invaluable.
  5. A critique group needs to focus on a style of writing. If you’re writing breaks from the critique groups normal submission parameters it’s difficult to get objective opinions.