My favorite Shakespeare play is Much Ado About Nothing. In the final scene, our hilarious, lovable and die-hard bachelor Benedick has finally taken the marriage plunge and quips to his friend, the prince: “Thou art sad, get thee a wife!”
I don’t think the Bard would mind too much if I put a little twist on it: Authors, thou art (sad, excited, doubtful, eager, wondering) about your writing, get thee a crit group!
Critique groups are absolutely wonderful inventions that at once manage to support, guide, re-direct and bolster the ever-growing writer in all of us. Perhaps more importantly, they provide us with people who can witness to our work.
I’ll never forget the first time a couple members of my own crit group started talking about my characters just for fun, outside of the official critique. They’d stumbled across something in the midst of their day that reminded them of one character, and it was incredible to listen to their reactions.
For most writers, the best type of recognition is simply the ability to touch readers through our characters and stories, to impact readers’ everyday worlds, even in a small way. There’s no guarantee that our writing will ever see the light of the published world, but crit groups can give us this reader experience on a more personal level.
Other great advice you can learn from crit groups:
Remember to feed your characters!
I glossed over this aspect a lot in my first drafts, and my crit group constantly called me on it. I found ways to add these details and enrich my world-building.
Flag awkward sentences.
We like to tease each other about these “cringe-worthy” sentences. Even the best of us will string together an epic run-on or use the same word multiple times as we’re rapidly throwing words on paper. They’re usually easy enough to fix once you’ve found them
Fill the cravings.
One gal in my critique group has a fun way of pointing out areas where she’d like more details. She always says, “I have a craving for…” Her comments help us know how to strengthen sections where readers are already engaged and just need a little shove to really fall in love.
Identify overused words.
Every once in a while, we’ll joke about somebody’s “word of the week”—a common word that they’ve accidentally used several times in one paragraph or one page. A crit group offers a great second set of eyes to catch instances the author can easily overlook. We toss around suggestions for synonyms or ways to rephrase to eliminate the unnecessary repetition.
Tap into other people’s expertise.
This is one of the coolest aspects of a crit group—the ability to benefit from each other’s unique habits, past-times and areas of expertise. I write fantasy and love the fact that my fellow critsters have included fencers and horse boarders. My stories feature swords and horses, and I don’t have personal experience in either of those areas, so I’m glad when my group members help me get the exact details accurate. My first novel is set almost entirely on a ship, and one of the gals in my group has a sailing background. Another member has a mining background that’s useful for some scenes.
The camaraderie, support and editing you can find in a good crit group is invaluable. If you haven’t had luck finding a local group, try the forums at Nathan Bransford’s blog or Absolute Write. My local writing studio, All Writers, also offers some online opportunities. Check them out – it’ll be well worth it!
What writer's group suggestions do you have?