To Critique or Not to Critique?

Critique groups can be a good thing. They can also be a place where an inexperienced writer takes a beating and walks away bleeding from eviscerating wounds. I personally have not ever gotten anything useful from a critique group that I could use in any specific stories, but I have learned some things from my experiences.

I know what I’m trying to do in my story. I have a plan, a character arc, a plot line and a destination in mind. (I cannot write a story without this, so of course I know it.) What I get from a critique can be anything from a copy edit, punctuation help, a complete rewrite of my plot, warp of my theme, a total anti-character action or any number of other things that don’t fit the plan that I have in mind. Sift through the information that you’re getting. What is the purpose of your critique request (if they let you actually specify what you need help on,) and how can they help achieve it? Do you need a high level plot consistency evaluation? Are you looking to see if your characters are acting out of character? Are your scenes accomplishing the plot advancement? Are you stuck and want brainstorming help for where to go next? When I submit something to be critiqued, I think long and hard about why I’m looking for that critique. Everyone is different. Some people just put it out there and take copious notes on the free-for-all that can happen. Doesn’t work for me, but it may for you.

Interview the type of people you want to be in your critique group. Are they of a similar writing level as you or will they challenge you to grow? What are your ideals or goals for a group? How do you expect to spend your time? How often? Is everyone submitting all the time or is it first in first out? Know what you’re getting into when you get involved with a critique group. Some groups are a huge time commitment. If that is what you’re looking for, great.

Once you’re there, know what you’re looking for when you’re asking for a critique. Keep in mind that when someone else reads your story, they bring all their own likes, dislikes, ideas, thoughts, preconceptions, perceptions and stories along with them as they read. This isn’t a bad thing IF you know what you’re looking for. For example, a mystery reader looks for event type plots. Not useful if you’re writing chick-lit or character driven stories. I prefer not to read anyone else’s work unless I am very familiar with that person. I also always ask what they are expecting from me once I read it. If it is too much to ask of my time, I say no. I would rather not do it than disappoint someone with feedback they do not want or need. I must trust the people I work with because there are all kinds of freaky people out there who are looking for an excuse to gripe. I don’t have time for that. Frankly I don’t have the patience or the tact to handle it either. I may seem mild mannered here, but let me tell you, I’m not. My time is my own and to share it with someone I do not know and trust on a personal level is not in my nature.

Be wise about your time and your resources. Know what you are getting into with and out of a critique. Having this in mind can make you a better writer if you use it right. Write on.

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