Mistakes Made When Starting Out in a Critique Group

Critique groups are invaluable.

I mention them a lot. Like, every few blog posts. Well, okay, maybe not that often but often enough that you get the picture.

In my last zoom interview, I reiterated I wouldn’t be where I am today with two published books without my critique partners and my editor.

BUT when I started writing again in September 2014 and joined an online critique website in January 2015, it was a mixed bag experience for me.

Why?

Well, it’s because I had a lot to learn in my writing.

The “rules” in how to write a novel, novella, or short story. They all required the same basic elements: character ARCs, the different points of view, story structure, setting/scenes, natural and realistic dialogue, a believable and solid plot, vivid descriptions, and well-developed characters.

I’m sure I missed something in that list. Nevertheless, it will work for what I’m talking about in this particular post.

In joining the online critique group, I learned rapidly these elements, especially points of view, character development, plot, and engaging dialogue.

But in the process, something unfortunate happened.

Something that caused me to nearly lose my ability to write when I’d just started writing again after nearly eighteen years away from the craft.

I couldn’t decipher well which criticisms were constructive and pertinent to how I wanted to revise and edit my storylines and characters. I wasn’t knowledgeable enough then.

Because of my lack of understanding and knowledge on this, I ended up losing my voice, my writing style, and ability to write easily or naturally. My sentences became mechanical, stilted, and plain boring.

With that, confidence in my craft plummeted for several months. Nearly a year.

I was in college then, so I had many papers to write and course work to read over daily. Therefore, I didn’t wallow in my loss of my art, but it did surface at times, and it didn’t feel very good.

Eventually, I went back into my online critique site and posted the story again, after having made many massive changes via rewrites and drastic changes to the opening chapter and a few other chapters within the novel.

Somehow, along the way, I found I couldn’t write the way people suggested I write, which, in reality, was writing the way they thought was the right way or their way. I could only write my way, through my voice and my style.

Because every writer has her own voice and style and is unique.

Once I’d discovered this, I felt comfortable again in my own skin, and confidence blossomed within me as a capable writer.

From that point on, the ability to discern which feedback was useful or not came more clearly and easily to me.

Sometimes I get the general feedback about not using “to be” verbs or “filter” words, like “thought”, “looked”, “felt”, etc. I ditched this worry, which had originally caused my writing to turn into drivel and eventually come to an abrupt stop for a few months.

Why did I ditch this reasonable advice? Because I read fiction novels by bestselling authors, and every single filter word critics had mentioned and I had read in writing books were sprinkled throughout those popular and engrossing novels. The key is using them sparingly, every so often.

Therefore, if you’re looking to join a critique group or have recently joined, please keep in mind that it takes a while to discern which feedback will be useful to you in your writing.

BUT never give up your voice or writing style.

Nobody has your voice or writing style.

Just you.

And that makes you and your writing unique and important.

If you preserve that, critique groups are gems, and you can acquire wonderful, dedicated critique partners that help sculpt your work into stellar finished products.

Now, go out there in the writing realm and be you.

~*~*~*~

The Importance of Critique Partners

hands stacking

This Friday, I submit my revised and finished manuscript of Passage of Promise, to my editor for a last proofreading and closing comments on the improved changes (they are improvements to me!) I made.  My awesome editor will have my manuscript from November 1 to November 18.

After four years working on this novel, I’m so excited to be at this phase in my project.

BUT…

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the loyal and steadfast critiquers (called critters from here on out because that’s the nickname used in my online critique group, and I like it), who have given me many valuable suggestions, sincere comments, and thoughts on my characters and plot of Passage of Promise. It’s because of them that my story is where it is now–sharper, stronger, more moving, and powerful.

I truly believe this.

Most fellow writers who follow my blog already know the importance and value of a critter or two in helping to sculpt and carve out your stories.

But for those of you, who are new writers, or perhaps if you all are like me…always learning…you may find this post beneficial to your writing journey.

If you are starting out, and even if you’ve written stories over the past several years or decade, find yourself a good critique group, either in person or online. You can find in-person critique groups through local and state writing groups.

critique group irl

I used to be part of Pennwriters when I lived in Pennsylvania. They had critique groups. You can search the groups and other authors to find which genres match up with your own, or that you like to read/critique.

As of today, I’m part of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) organization/group, and I couldn’t be happier. Through them, they have workshops, critique groups, and my favorite–writers conferences.

writers conference pic

Each year, RMFW holds a writers conference in or around the Denver area, and it seems to be around September. So I’ll have to wait a bit, but that’s okay. It’s another great event to look forward to here in beautiful Colorado!

For online groups, do some research in finding the best groups for you. There are also some critique groups on Facebook that you can join if you’d like. Some are especially for finding compatible critique partners.

Whatever avenue you take in participating in a critique group, will be an experience you, most assuredly (if it’s a good group), will cherish, grow from, and learn from, which will only strengthen your writing skills and talent.

walk with others

When I get to writing acknowledgements in the opening pages or pages in the back of my novel, I will be giving credit to the critters who helped me through the revising, structuring, characterization, and plot of my story. They were part of the process, making me think, encouraging me, uplifting me, and giving me constructive criticism that caused me to go back and transform my novel that was dull and lackluster to something bright, bold, and beautiful.

**One little warning: It may take you a while to settle into the right group or partner with the right person. It’s a relationship, really, and it needs to click, where your partner appreciates your work, understands where you’re coming from, what you’re looking for (you should tell your partner/partners this from the get go, of course), and in return, respect and appreciate his/her/their work. Because sometimes you can get real bears who aren’t out to give you good, constructive criticism but rather sour, condescending critiques on every aspect of your work, wanting you to write the way they do or steer your plot in a direction you’re not comfortable with. Over time, through trial and error, you learn a whole hell of a lot on which particular critiques to accept and apply to your characters, plot, etc. and which ones to kick to the curb. Nevertheless, It’s all worth it. You learn and grow and become a stronger, more experienced, and better writer!

Now, go out there and find yourselves an awesome group of critters to walk alongside  and encourage you in your writing journey!

success silhouette

~*~*~*~