The Value of Critique Groups

First, a quick update on my progress this week. I have been super busy at work. As a Resident Director, it's my job to train the Resident Assistants for my building. That means I spend 8-12 hours/day teaching these college students how to handle the residents who will be moving in next week. It's exhausting. Fun, but exhausting.

That said, I did get some work done.

I've revised through chapter seven and one of my critique groups reviewed my opening chapter. It was a really valuable experience so I thought it warranted some space on here. First, it's important to find a critique group that fits with your style. They don't all need to write the same genre as you to be helpful, but they do need to at least appreciate and respect what you're trying to do. For example, if you write YA romance, and everyone in the critique group thinks romance is stupid and a waste of time, that's probably not going to be the most productive space for you to show your work.

I currently attend two writing groups, both of which are full of wonderful people, but the type of writing they like is different. One group tends to prefer literary fiction and is not terribly impressed by genre fiction (at least, that's how it seemed to me). The other group, while not all YA Fantasy writers, does like and respect genre fiction. Or, put another way, one group likes writing that is really artsy and full of deep metaphors while the other primarily prefers writing with strong story telling. Both groups gave some similar broad stroke suggestions, but the second group was much more thorough and helpful. Plus, they were able to help me trouble shoot with some of their suggestions.

But why do we need critique groups (or partners)? What exactly do they do?

Well, for one, critique groups give you a chance to have multiple people read and review your work at once. You get a variety of opinions, which is helpful because if they all have similar issues, you know it's a problem and not just one person's tastes. The members of the critique group also have something you'll never have: true distance from your story. Having other writers read your story will give you a new perspective.

For example, things I learned from my critique groups:

  • The distinction between the clans wasn't clear enough in the first chapter (and especially in the opening scene).
  • People were confused as to whether my folks were humans w/ powers (which they are) or aliens or something else. This one actually threw me for a loop. I did not at all expect this problem and it will take some thinking to figure out just how to fix it without being too obvious.
  • Some folks thought the world building in chapter one was a tad ambiguous
  • Some people liked the opening scene (the fight scene) while others thought it was confusing to start there then jump back a week. I think I'll have to come up with two different opening scenes and see which works better based on the various feedback. This will take a lot of work to figure out though.

I think those were the big ones. I'm definitely interested to see how the review of the second chapter goes next week, and I know I have a lot of work ahead of me.

So, how am I going to use all the feedback I received?

Well, first I'm going to finish the fourth draft. I think the changes I had planned for that draft are still valid and important so I'm going to continue making them. And then, after I've received feedback on my first three chapters (that's all I submitted to my groups) and I've finished the fourth draft, I'll go back and start figuring out how to incorporate those changes. Hopefully that all works! That said, this next week will continue to be super busy at work, so I'll try to write when I can. But once we get to the end of August, it's back to full swing writer mode.

So, what about you folks? Do you belong to any writing groups (whether online or in person)? Do you find them helpful? How did you pick the right one? Let me know in the comments!

Until next week,
Isabel