The Case For Literary Critique Groups

About a month ago, I joined an online critique group called Critique Circle. Here’s how it works: I earn credits by critiquing the work that others submit, and I use those credits to submit my own work for others to critique. Sounds pretty simple, huh?

It is. Mostly. The process is simple. Receiving critiques, well…

I’m reminded of a section of Steven King’s On Writing where he describes this extremely loud, obnoxious babysitter he had when he was about nine. She would sit on him and fart whilst laughing. He said the experience set him up to receive literary criticism.

Hopefully a writer who is putting work out there for others – strangers – to read has thick skin. Critters aren’t as nice as your mom or best friend who loves 100% of everything you write, for some reason. The first thing I submitted was well-received by a couple critters, but it was mostly skewered mercilessly, and rightfully so. I submitted the thing to find out if it really wasn’t good, or if I just had a bad attitude about it, having learned a while back that I really am my own worst critic. Turns out, the piece was just bad, and I sent it to the proverbial back burner until it rots or until I decide it’s worth fixing.

Here’s why I stick around after having something I created shot to death. After the “ouch” factor that follows crits wears off, there is an opportunity to learn things, believe it or not. Because I’m a blogger and we bloggers love lists, I’ve compiled a list of what I’ve gleaned from the crittting experience.

1. You may not actually know everything there is to know about writing.

I know, right? I never claimed to know everything, especially since I went to school for psychology and elementary education degrees. Creative writing classes never filled space on my class schedule. So when I decided I wanted to write fiction, I scoured blog posts and writing books until I thought I had the basics, then I would write something crappy, followed by another round or scouring, and so on. By the time I joined the group – which was after I had a YA novel under contract with a publisher, mind you – I thought I had a pretty good handle on the whole deal.

Well, maybe. Turns out I had some sloppy writing behaviors – mainly filtering and using words like “started” and “began”. I subsequently searched every manuscript for the offending practices and corrected them. I would have never known about those if not for the group.

2. The fact that critters aren’t your mom or best friend gives you the most objective reviews.

Keep in mind that these reviews may conflict, either with each other or with your own background, and that’s where you as the writer, who knows the story better than anyone, decide what you can use and what you can’t. The point is these people don’t know you, so they don’t worry too much about hurting your feelings.

3. On the whole, critters are respectful and want to help.

Now, I’ve only been at the site for a relatively short time, but I haven’t encountered anyone who was critting to be mean or to make themselves feel better. We’re all in this writing thing together, and we want to help each other make our writing the best it can be. Simple as that.

So there you have it. I leave you with Dilbert’s experience with literary criticism and suggest that if you decide to join a critique group, you should  provide feedback more useful than Dogbert’s.

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4 thoughts on “The Case For Literary Critique Groups

  1. “The first thing I submitted was well-received by a couple critters, but it was mostly skewered mercilessly, and rightfully so. I submitted the thing to find out if it really wasn’t good”

    Funny, the first thing I submitted was something I knew was good, to see if any of the crits new anything.

    Like

  2. Pingback: How Do You Find Good Critique Partners? | Allison Maruska

  3. Pingback: Editing A Book Is Like Refinishing A Deck | Allison Maruska

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