So You Want To Write-Part 3: Benefits and Perils of Critique Groups

Critique Groups offer benefits and perils. Insight, tact, writing ability, and perseverance are all qualities important for a successful critique group. But of course not all members of writing groups possess all of these abilities.

Several purposes exist for a critique group, it seems to me. Writers swing wildly between falling in love with their work and hating it. The critique group can moderate these wild bipolar swings in temperment.

A critique group may act as therapist, encouraging shy writers to take risks and for others mitigate the  urges of out-of-control ink slingers. Nevertheless to offer this insight requires tact.

I have observed writers, clearly in love with their work, become balky when even mildly criticized. In response to criticism I have observed a few stop writing altogether and quit the group in a huff.

I personally think it useful to begin by saying something positive about the work, offer polite suggestions for improvement, and then close by saying something else nice about the piece. The so-called sandwich approach works for Toastmasters International, why wouldn’t it work for critique groups?

I have also observed some writers who are impervious to repeated corrections from multiple members of the group. Sometimes repeated advice acts like rain failing to penetrate a rock. Such people would try the patience of Job.

Having a modicum of ability benefits the overall group. Frankly not everyone can write in an engaging or interesting fashion. Chalk on the blackboard-type writing tests one’s patience, especially if the neophyte writer is closed off to suggestions.

Some people simply want an audience for their work and do not wish to be critiqued. These people should not be in a critique group but instead require patient and loving families and friends who are, ahem, easily entertained.

A desire to improve one’s writing and a willingness (call it thick skin) to endure less than stellar reviews are necessary for improvement.

Over the years I have had the pleasure of hearing the work of scientific writers, romance novelists, action writers, writers for adolescent works, and science fiction writers among others. Surprisingly, all have provided me benefit. If nothing else, I have learned the differing techniques that go into engaging and interesting writing from their perspectives.

I personally think a mixed genre group helps the overall group. Not only does it draw upon different approaches, it also reduces competition. After all aren’t we all a little bit competitive in what we strive to do?

Perseverance may seem an opaque requirement, but in my experience various writing groups have repeatedly broken up and been reconstituted. Fortunately I have for years now been associated with a stable group, the members for which I have great respect. Frankly, to be willing to share one’s innermost thoughts and feelings requires a great deal of trust. Such trust must be developed over time and with nonjudgmental individuals.

Imagine trying to read your first attempt at erotic literature before a group of strangers. It would not work. In a good critique group you will become more comfortable reading your work and discussing sensitive topics than you would be with your family or close friends. Such learned trust is a must for a good critique group.

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