If you’ve been writing for any length of time, chances are you’ve heard this sagely advice: join a critique group. Joining a writing community offers a long list of benefits, from support and encouragement, to extra eyes on our manuscripts, to simple accountability. Writing is a lonely task, and meeting with other creators can help us persevere in our journey. Even so, many writers find the idea of a critique group intimidating. It can be a challenge to give others feedback on their work, especially if they’re more experienced than we are. And the thought of receiving constructive criticism on our stories? Absolutely terrifying to many of us.
As a writer who’s been part of critique groups since my senior year of high school–who still gets butterflies sharing my work with others–I can tell you that the benefits of writing groups far outweigh the nerves that critiques cause.
So here are a few tips to help you overcome the critique group jitters.
1. Find the right critique group.
Whether you live in an area with multiple writing groups or you’re searching the web for online meetings, there’s often a few different communities to pick from. As you make your decision, keep in mind a couple of factors. First, try and find a group where at least one or two other members are familiar with your genre. Otherwise, your story might not always get the recognition it deserves. (For example, an adult thriller writer might feel that your children’s book is too slow, when really the pacing is just right.)
Second, learn your critique style and find a group that fits with it. If you do better giving feedback after you’ve had time to digest a piece, find a group that sends in stories ahead of time or gives critique primarily though written/emailed notes. If you’re better with verbal processing and brainstorming in the moment, in-person meetings where stories are read during your time together might be the way to go.
Third, find a group whose primary goal is to encourage one another. Most critique groups exist to support fellow writers, but occasionally you’ll bump into more competitive communities. You want to find a group which will help build you up, rather than discourage you.
2. Focus on giving honest critique, not perfect critique.
Sometimes it can be tempting to only give feedback if you’re 100% sure your opinions are correct. But part of the learning experience for both us and other authors is being wrong sometimes. If you feel like an author has left out an important detail, included more detail than necessary, or something else like that, don’t be afraid to mention it. Doing so gives the author an opportunity to consider why they made the decisions they did, and to consider whether a different choice might be stronger.
Remember, writing critique is usually subjective. Aside from the obvious errors of grammar and punctuation, many of the improvements to a piece are going to focus on how the story is coming across. Issues of flow, coherence, pacing, and clarity rely on how well the writer communicates with his audience. To know that, writers need their readers, their critique partners, to be honest in their responses to a work.
Of course, we still want to be encouraging. We can be honest while also being kind. Along with issues you notice, be sure to point out details you like about a piece. When you aren’t sure of how an issue can be resolved, or whether something you see is even a problem, feel free to ask questions. But don’t feel like you can’t give an honest opinion just because you aren’t as experienced as others or because you might offend someone.
3. Don’t be offended if someone doesn’t take your advice.
This is a small point, but important to keep in mind. As I said above, writing critique is subjective. There will be times that you give advice, even good advice, that just doesn’t work for another writer’s story. And that’s okay. Your opinions and thoughts still have value. You just have to remember that at the end of the day, the writer knows what works best for the story they are trying to tell. If your advice doesn’t fit their goals, it’s nothing personal against you.
4. Remember that constructive criticism is meant to help you, not hurt you.
Receiving feedback on our stories can be one of the hardest things we do as writers. Our stories are our darlings, our art, and it can be challenging to hear that there is any flaw in them. However, we have to remember that our critique partners are there to help us. They want our stories to be the best that they can possibly be. As such, good writing groups will tell you if there are weak places that need fixing. This advice for improvement doesn’t mean our stories are bad; it means that they’re worth putting in the work to polish. So, if your critique partners mark up your stories with notes, don’t be discouraged. Take it as a sign that they care about your work, and they want you to keep pursuing it.
5. Don’t feel like you have to take every piece of advice.
Even though your critique group is there to help you, you know your story best. Just as your advice doesn’t always work for other people, there will be instances when their feedback doesn’t work for you. So yes, take time to consider each opinion and idea your writing partners give you. Be willing to admit weaknesses that they point out which need fixing. But after honestly weighing their advice, don’t be afraid to set aside the feedback that doesn’t work with your story’s style or goals.
If you try to edit your story to please everyone, you’ll end up losing your voice along the way.
Final Thoughts on the Writing Critique Group:
As scary as joining a critique group can be, the challenge of giving and receiving feedback is incredibly rewarding. Sharing our thoughts on the work of others and hearing them respond to our pieces strengthens our writing in ways we might never manage alone. I hope as your pursue your writing dreams, you’ll step out in courage and share your words with others. Writing is a long journey, but the road is easier when traveled together.