Why You Need a Critique Group & The Things It's Taught Me...

Nobody writes a perfect first (or third or fourth) draft. And as much as we all like to think what we create is brilliant, we need honest feedback to improve as writers. I absolutely adore my critique group. We meet monthly and turn in about 50 pages for each session. Everyone is a thriller or mystery writer, but the subgenres vary. Our backgrounds vary too, and everyone brings amazing skills and experiences.

I appreciate the feedback, and the monthly deadlines keep me on track with my writing. I learn as much from the conversations about others' work as I do when they review my submissions.

Here's what I learned from last month's meeting...

Backstory - Sprinkle in the history of the story. Don't do a large data dump of character or biographical information. Spread it through your chapters.

Yawn! - If you're bored, your readers will be too.

Chapter Endings - Avoid ending a chapter with a character going to bed. The reader needs a reason to turn the page and not look for a good stopping point.

Crutch Words - Look for words that you overuse. Use your word processor's search feature to find them. Mine are "in a few minutes," "very," and "just." I have a list now, and I search through the draft when I'm self-editing to get rid of them.

Dashing off - If you use dashes, make sure that they're the em dash and not two hyphens.

Semicolons - Watch your use of semicolons. They can be an indicator that your sentences are too long and wordy.

Cut the Fluff - Get rid of useless words and phrases. It makes your writing tighter. Look at your adjectives. You don't need two or three to describe the same thing.

Jump to It - Use "jumps" to indicate the passage of time. You don't have to account for every minute of your character's life. To fly from New York to Paris, you can move from one scene to the next. You don't have to write about driving to the airport, parking, checking in, buying coffee, and sitting in the lounge, unless it's key to the plot of the story.

What's in a Name - Be consistent with what you call your characters. Don't refer to them by multiple names or titles. It confuses your readers.

Best wishes with your writing. Keep at it. It's work, and it takes a lot to revise and rewrite.

What Makes Our Critique Group Work

I love my critique group. I learn as much from the discussion of others' works as I do from when they review mine. Our background, genders, age groups, and life experiences are varied, and that's an asset because of the breadth of knowledge. The group shares resources, reads, and provides reviews for published works.

Here's Why Our Group Works...

1. No one knew each other before we started the group, and there were no predetermined alliances.

2. We set the rules/procedures up front, and we review them to see if they need to change.

3. We have one standing facilitator and a backup if she can't attend.

4. Participants don't have to provide materials for each review at each meeting. It's up to the submitter to determine when he/she has items to review. I don't submit every month, but it keeps me motivated and provides deadlines for writing.

5. The comments/feedback aren't personal. We all have a common goal to get our work published, and we want to make our manuscripts as strong as possible.

6. We mark typos, punctuation, and grammar issues, but we don't spend the group's discussion time dwelling on these types of issues.

7. In the discussion, if more than one person agrees or disagrees with a comment, we pipe up when it's mentioned instead of repeating the same things over and over.

8. We commit to reading and providing feedback each month as part of the group. It takes time, but it is worth it.

I have learned a lot from this group. If you are serious about writing, you need a good, strong writing partner or critique group.

The Value of a Critique Group

A critique group can help you refine your writing and get your manuscript ready for publication. The support and ideas are invaluable. But it does take some courage to put your writing out there for comments and criticism. You also need to be in the mindset to take the criticism and improve your manuscript.

Find a group that fits your work style and genre. Some are virtual (online), and others are in person. Mine meets monthly at a local library. We have six to nine authors who attend regularly. It may help if you can ask to visit before you join or submit your work to get an understanding of the rules, conventions, and group dynamics.

Make sure you know the rules. In our group, there has to be at least two submissions in order to have the monthly meeting. We also don't require members to submit something each month.

We make notes about grammatical and formatting issues and give them to the owner. We don't spend the group's discussion time talking about commas. Also, if someone mentions an issue that others noted, they jump in when it is first discussed, so we don't have to repeat items that have already been mentioned.

I like that my group has a good mix of published and pre-published writers. There is also a good balance between readers and writers. Our group started out with all female members, but we're now more gender and age diverse. That's helpful because we get a variety of opinions and ideas.

Don't take the criticism personally. The goal is to offer help to improve your writing. You're there to listen and learn, not to defend your work against every comment. And in the end, they are all opinions. If you really don't agree with something, don't use it.

I am very fortunate that my group focuses on mysteries and crime stories. The critiques are more valuable when the group members know the conventions of the genre. They also offer connections and advice that help writers at all stages of their careers.

You need to make sure that you're contributing to the group. Make the time to do serious critiques/reviews of their submissions. It takes some effort, but the advice has been invaluable for me.

My group is supportive. We help each other with marketing, social media, book launches, and technology. And we celebrate each other's successes!