Last week fellow Zonderkidz author Glenys Nellist wrote an inspiring post about her top tip for aspiring authors: attend a writing conference. I love her tip and I wholeheartedly agree that attending conferences is important. It’s a great chance to interface with editors and agents, for example, and to network with other authors. It even led to her first book offer! (Yes, you really should read her post.)
But what would my top tip be? Hmmm… there are so many possiblities. Writing daily, reading voraciously. Attending conferences. Yes. But I guess if I had to pick one top tip for aspiring writers, it would be to join a critique group.
Often when I chat with newer writers, I discover they’ve been writing in isolation. And very often the manuscripts they share would benefit from several more rounds of revision. As a new writer, I, too, was guilty of writing in quiet isolation, never sharing my work in progress with anyone (except maybe my husband or mother) and consequently sending pieces to publishers far too prematurely.
It wasn’t until I started sharing my work with a handful of trusted critique partners that my writing really improved. Joining a critique group also got me connected with other writers eager to learn and grow and succeed. In fact, I would go so far as to say that being part of various critique groups over the years has made all the difference in my love for this writerly journey.
Here then, with gratitude to my awesome, trusted critique buddies, are FOUR wonderful perks I’ve enjoyed by participating in critique groups.
1. COMMUNITY SUPPORT: Writing can be lonely and the intricacies of the publishing world are certainly confusing. What a blessing it has been to be part of various critique groups that have included both new and seasoned authors, all eager to support and encourage each other, providing advice and insights along the way.
2. FRIENDLY ACCOUNTABILITY: Most critique groups have rules for submitting and sharing work. Members are expected to abide by those rules and are kept accountable by the other members in the group. My current online group, for example, has seven members and we each take turns submitting one manuscript per week. My in-person group meets monthly and we all bring something to share. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been tempted to set a story aside because I’m stuck over some sticky wicket, but instead I’ve pressed on. Why? Because my critique group was counting on me (and cheering me on) to produce a presentable draft.
3. FRESH EYES AND FRESH PERSPECTIVE: I am grateful for the honest, thoughtful feedback I’ve received from my critique partners. Indeed, there’s nothing like fresh eyes on your story to give you much needed perspective. I must confess, however, that I have grown as a writer, just as much, if not more, from giving feedback to others. Sometimes it’s easier to see what is and isn’t working in someone else’s writing. And if you can articulate that for your critique partner, you not only help them, but you can most likely apply that feedback , or some variation of it, to your own writing.
4. DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF YOUR GENRE: Finally, participating in a critique group offers members a chance to gain a deeper understanding of their genre. This happens quite naturally as you read and respond to each others’ work. For example, when critiquing each others’s work, members in my groups will often suggest helpful titles to read, perhaps pieces that follow a similar structure, or that have a similar theme. Through this process of feedback and discussion and reading suggestions, our understanding deepens and our skill improves.
Now it’s your turn. What critique group perks have I missed? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Happy reading, writing, and critiquing all!
P.S. Stay tuned for a follow-up post on how to find a critique group.