Several years ago I found two new friends who, with me, decided we could be a good critique group. All of us were neophytes in the writing world, so it was probably a case of two blinds leading a third blind.
As a teacher of elementary students, I guess I was the “expert” in grammar and punctuation, but there my expertise ended. We would meet every two weeks, read each other’s work, and comment on where we thought improvements could be made while we sipped cup after cup of coffee. It was a fun, social gathering. At the time, we knew what sounded all right. And we took that as our measure of competence.
Gradually, we referred to books by professional writers that would help us screen out more subtle errors, such as character development, plot-planning,and point of view. I think the three of us felt we were treading in unfamiliar water. We began to see where improvements in our execution of the written word could be made, but had trouble justifying the reasoning behind it.
At the same time, I was meeting with another group in another town at a different time. One of the members had acquired the interest of an editor/publisher, and was off and running to get her book published. Now I had more professional input, and with the help of that group, and said editor, was able to finish and submit my manuscript to that publisher. She taught me some more about the finer points of writing, and, voila! Wind-Free was born.
Both groups disbanded for various reasons, and I was able to latch onto another group. The six of us still meet on a regular basis, and I have learned more of what makes a good story—no, a great story.
My greatest weakness has been maintaining the proper points of view and not making “mashed potatoes” of my characters in a story to keep the flow easy for the reader to follow. Along the way, I’ve received the greatest help from those who handle point of view with smoothness. We all know the value of honesty in our critiquing, and the need to accept each one’s suggestions—whether we wish to use them or not.
We have come to appreciate each other’s voice in the chapters we review. Yes, I may see a different way of saying something, but I know not to rewrite entire passages in my style. We all make suggestions, and reaffirm that that’s all they are—just suggestions.
Another form of critiquing may come from contests. I entered a contest last year and won fourth place. I later learned had I cut back on so much description and included more dialogue, inserting descriptive phrases here and there, (the old “show” not “tell” game), I probably would have gotten a higher award. Believe me, I took that lesson to heart and was so pleased at my next critique meeting to hear one of our members who reviewed my submission to the group say my writing was so much better.
A critique group can be invaluable to an author. When you find a few people with whom you share like interests and, as a group, you fit each other like a well-worn glove fits on the hand, don’t let them get away. They can be your best friends—at least in the writing world.