August 23, 2014

Writing Tip: Improve Your Writing With a Critique Group

Critique groups are one of the best ways of improving your writing. As a novelist I can, and do, edit my own manuscript. Of course. That's part of the process. But that only works to a point. I've lived with this novel-in-progress and these words for a long time and even if I step away for a week or two I'm unable to distance myself in the same way that fresh eyes and a fresh perspective would. I assume things are on the page because they were in my head when I wrote those words, but not all of that makes its way into the story. 
That's where your readers come in. 
If you have friends who read your work in progress, know that they will tell you it's wonderful, even if they swear to be honest. And that's great to hear but it won't help your writing career.
Lesson one: friends will mostly NOT BE honest. They won't want to hurt your feelings and they won't want to presume to tell you how to write. 
Honest, informed feedback is what you need and the best way to get that is through a critique group. They're not all that easy to find but when you find a good one DON'T LET IT GO!
Last year at the Chicago Writers Conference I was on a panel of authors talking about the writing process and the discussion came around to critique groups. I espoused the benefits of being in one, and bemoaned the fact that the group I'd been in had fallen apart, and that I'd been unable to find a new one. After the panel a man came up to me and invited me to join his group. And right behind him were two women who said they were both writing novels and wanted to start a group, and would I join them. 
Well, I joined both! I've been with them for nearly a year now and they are very different and both are fabulous! And my book is that much better because of their feedback.
How do you find a critique group? Network; ask your writer friends, post something on your Facebook or Twitter page, go to writing conferences and talk to people (The Chicago Writers Conference is coming up in October) or look online - if you can't find an in-person group, find a virtual one. 
Critiquing is an art, on the receiving end and on the giving end, so next time I'll post some tips for how to do it in a way that's beneficial to all involved.
Meanwhile, here's a quick little guide:

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