I’ve worked hard to improve my writing, and one of my greatest tools to that end has been the writing group.
Just for fun, I went back and re-read the first chapter I brought into a critique group two years ago. Ouch! The overuse of adverbs and terrible, clichéd writing was like someone scratching fingernails over a chalkboard. I’ll never understand what possessed me to write a page and a half about hummingbirds in the first chapter of a fantasy story that had nothing to do with them.
A critique group can help both veterans and novices alike. I recommend joining one that meets regularly (at least twice a month) and has members who write in a variety of genres and styles.
I’ve observed three kinds of groups in my writing career.
The casual meeting
Butterflies, ponies and fluffy bunnies. The casual meeting is punctuated by food, games and perhaps a discussion on writing (if you’re lucky). There’s very little in the way of critique, and the purpose of the group is to help a writer feel good about themselves.
The casual group is best for writers who aren’t looking for critique, but rather the companionship of like-minded people who want to have fun.
Possible critique: I like your book. It’s a good book.
Abandon hope all ye who enter here
The crucible. The sinking stairway into the abyss of despair. Pain incarnate. There’s no road to hell, because you’ve already reached your destination. If sulfurous fumes and acid laced pitchforks don’t scare you, then this is the writers group for you.
This group is honest. Brutally so. The focus is solely on critiquing, leaving no room for fun and games. You’ll enter this group with a piece and have it returned to you bleeding red ink. This is the first group I joined. We tend to have a new member attrition rate of about 70 – 90%.
Don’t come for praise. You will get it from time to time, but expect to be torn apart. No one but you can put the pieces back together again and when you do, you’ll be stronger and more confident than before. Once you’ve survived your first few critique sessions, you’ll have the hardened skin needed to face critics and detractors head on.
This group is best for someone who wants to improve their ability. There’s no flashy gimmicks, no playing around. There’s only the writing.
I should mention, however, that we meet at a restaurant afterward to unwind 🙂
Possible Critique: You’re using way to many adverbs. This piece is garbage and here’s why. The protagonist is so annoying I hope she dies.
At last we have the hybrid. A good mix of the previous two. Hybrid groups meet and critique, but do so over a table of food…you know, the healthy kind. Doritos, cake, salsa.
We focus on our storytelling as much as we do on our writing.
My group is small with four members. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage. We’re familiar with each other’s styles, but because we’re familiar, we’ll occasionally overlook mistakes we otherwise wouldn’t.
The hybrid group is best for those who like informal, small meetings with critique, story feedback, and fun.
Possible critique: This part of your story works well, but your protagonists actions don’t fit their character. Try this instead, it feels more natural.
Find what works for you. I don’t particularly like the easy, casual group, but if that’s what motivates you to write, then go for it. If a writers group doesn’t encourage you to improve, move on.
So, I’ve talked about the three group styles of I’m acquainted with. How about you? Are you in a writing group? Is it like one of groups listed above or is it different. I’d like to hear your thoughts and/or experiences.