Some people are incredibly private when it comes to their writing. Even some of those who are on the path to publication (or have already been published) eschew showing anyone other than their paid editor their book before it is in printed, bound, saleable form. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the most common is fear. And of the most prevalent fears is the fear of a story being stolen.
I can’t say I am completely immune to this particular fear. I have shied away from putting my stories up in online critique groups and writing communities in response to stories about authors suddenly seeing their stories in print under someone else’s name. The problem is that no one I’ve spoken to can point out even one particular case of this happening. Where is the evidence?
Eventually, I got over my fears–part of that had to do with the fact that I actually joined a wonderful online critique group (Critique Circle, for anyone interested)–and recently I even created a group of my own.
But the point of this post isn’t fear, it’s why critique groups are incredibly awesome.
Have you ever worked on a math problem for a long time and gotten so turned around by the numbers that you can’t figure out where you went wrong? But then someone comes along and points out your mistake in two seconds? Sometimes that’s what a good critique can do.
You are God in your character’s universe. Both omnipotent and omniscient, sometimes it’s hard to realize that not everyone sees your world the way you do. By bringing in an outsider, you get a whole new set of questions you have to answer, different expectations to meet, and a different reader to satisfy. By bringing in several, you’re getting a sampling of your future audience and you learn ahead of time which points of the story some readers disagree on. By bringing in a critique group instead of a paid editor, you’re saving money. I know I’m totally broke. 😉
Besides, it’s fantastic to have someone to talk to about the characters, what’s working, and what they want to see.
So how do you go about forming a critique group? Here are some tips that may help.
- Keep it relatively small. If more than four or five writers are involved, individuals receive minimal attention.
- Find people whose work you find interesting. Critiquing a 500 page novel that you hate isn’t good for anyone, honestly.
- Work with people who will be honest but constructive. Vindictive or hurtful comments are not going to help you revise, they’ll just shatter your self-confidence.
- Lay out the ground rules early. How much time does each story get? How long do readers have to respond? How often will you meet? Will the meetings be in person, on the phone, or online? In what format do writers expect to receive their comments?
- Stick with it! You’ll only benefit if everyone in the group is willing to put in the time to make it work.
Do you think a critique group is for you? There are plenty of ways to meet writers interested in forming one. Online forums, conferences, flyers in college English departments, local writer’s clubs (check your local library), coffee shops, book stores. The possibilities are limitless. So, go! Find those who share your passion and help each other make it toward the finish line. I have a feeling you’ll be glad you did.