Find a Critique Group!

Right after I graduated college, when I first decided I was going to commit to pursuing writing as my career, I was given one of the most valuable pieces of advice: join a critique group. Writers online and at SCBWI events all seemed to believe that having a critique group review your work before publishing it, or submitting it for publication, was the best way to ensure high-quality writing.

They were so right!

So, today, I'm going to talk about why I joined two critique groups, and give some advice for helping you find the perfect group!


Finding a Group

Right off the bat, I decided to join two different groups, because I had two different pieces I was working on: one children's picture book, and one young-adult novel. (The YA book is Beauty King, which came out in February 2016, and the children's book is Princess Allee, the first in the Furever Home Friends series, which is coming out this August!)

So, I went on the SCBWI website and looked for critique groups in Chicago that were seeking new members. Proximity was extremely important to me, and still is; I don't have a car, and I needed a group I could travel to on public transportation.

Luckily, one of the groups I joined is actually an online group. I, along with four other writers, email excerpts of our YA novels to each other, and send comments and critiques back within a week. It works really well, and all the writers I've met through this group have been wonderful sources of inspiration and guidance. They've also become great friends, and come to see me at author panels. I've been a member of this group for almost two years now.

The other group, we meet in person. We all share our children's book manuscripts with each other, mark up each other's printed-out manuscripts, and give each other advice. It's nice to sit around the table with a variety of different people--of a wide range of ages and backgrounds. 

Taking Criticism

Being in critique groups has helped me learn what criticism to take, and what to leave. As is true of all art, stories are open to interpretation. Two people can read the same story, and have different feelings on it. So, when someone doesn't like one thing, and someone else loves it, it can sometimes get confusing trying to figure out what to change.

One obvious solution, of course, is to see what aspects of your story get the MOST comments. If one line is confusing everyone, then you should probably change it. But if one person finds a character annoying, and another person finds them lovable, then it's just a difference in opinion, and you have to decide what to do with that.

Another thing that can help is trying to figure out the main idea of your story. If lots of members of your group don't like a particular scene, but you think that scene is super important to your story's overall message, then you should keep the scene. But maybe you need to change what happens before and after that scene, so that the scene makes sense in context. 

One of my professors in college gave me some of the best writing advice I've ever heard: "Embrace the weird." I had a scene in the first draft of one of my stories that a lot of people in the class didn't understand, so I took it out and replaced it with something different. But when talking with my professor, she told me that I didn't need to get rid of the scene. If the scene was weird, all I needed to do was figure out why it was weird. And from there, determine what events needed to happen in order for that scene to make sense. I needed to figure out what qualities and motivations my characters had that would lead to that scene. 

Instead of removing what others don't understand, we can add to the story to make them understand. By removing the "weird" scenes, we end up with a perfectly logical, but often ordinary story. By embracing the weird, but adding the proper context so that it makes sense, we create a more memorable piece of writing.

Bring Cookies

This piece of advice is irrelevant. But I sometimes bring cookies to my critique groups. Sometimes others offer me tea or candy or water. Eating while you write is just more fun. Everyone knows that.

Best of luck to anyone looking for a critique group! If you have trouble finding one, either email me or tell me in the comments, and I'll be happy to help you out!

Happy Monday!

Love,
Savy

Comments

  1. It is so great to be in your critique group...your advice and insight is greatly appreciated.

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    Replies
    1. Aw, thank you, Nancy! I love having you in our critique group as well. Love your stories, and love getting your thoughts on my work as well! :)

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