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.
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.
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.