What if you could have a whole group of people meet regularly to analyze your manuscript, for free? Sound too good to be true? It isn’t. It’s called a critique group.
Okay, so it has “critique” in its name—I can understand feeling intimidated. I was too, at first. But seven years after joining my first critique group, I can confidently say it’s one of the greatest ways I’ve grown as both an editor and a writer.
Here are nine reasons joining a critique group is well worth the risk.
Highlights writing weaknesses
This is pretty obvious, but it’s worth elaborating on. Critique groups are free editors and beta readers (a.k.a. test subjects). Plot holes, inconsistencies, sagging conflict, or even recurring punctuation errors—your critique group can help you clean up your manuscript. (And did I mention it was free?)
Highlights writing strengths
This is less obvious but equally important. A good editor doesn’t just axe the bad; they also bring out the good. You’ll discover which scenes and characters are hitting home based on your group’s reactions, and more than that, you’ll learn your strengths as a writer—what sets you apart and gives you an original voice.
It’s one thing to let writing slide off the bottom of your to-do list. It’s another to tell your critique group, “Actually, I never finished that story.” “Hey!” they will shout. “We liked that story! Finish it!” When you’re in a critique group, you have readers, and you have a responsibility to write for them. That’s a strong motivator.
Gives industry knowledge
Anne R. Allen highlights this in her excellent article on critique groups. Through a writing group with experienced writers, you can learn a lot about different aspects of the industry. Looking for a place to publish that short story? Wondering what an agent is and how to get one? Debating whether you’re writing Young Adult or New Adult? Someone in your group might have the answers you need.
Strengthens editing skills
By hearing others’ editorial advice and by practicing giving your own, you will grow as an editor. Maybe you don’t want to be an editor. That’s fine. But being a better editor will strengthen your self-editing skills, too, and result in stronger final drafts. That’s a benefit any author can appreciate.
Thickens your skin
When I first joined a critique group, I was anxious about criticism and hungry for positive feedback. Obviously, I still crave positive feedback, but I’ve become less fearful about receiving criticism. That’s an incredible asset in a publishing world saturated with rejection letters. Writers need to hone their craft, but they also need to keep writing no matter what. Over time, a critique group can help you recognize bad writing without making you feel like a bad writer. After all, the group’s goal is to help each other succeed.
Increases your empathy
Some writers (like myself) are naturally inclined to editing. We’re perfectionistic, critical, wanting to smoothen out every flaw we see. Sometimes, we can be insensitive. Being a part of a critique group where others critique my work reminds me what it’s like to have someone say my “baby” is ugly. I’ve learned to be gentle when I critique others. If you want to become an empathetic editor, joining a critique group and submitting your own writing is an excellent way to do that.
Pitching ideas and brainstorming
Sometimes, a critique group unveils a massive plot hole or character inconsistency, and you, the author, have to enter brainstorming mode. Ever wish you could bounce story ideas off people who actually understand your plot and characters? Well, in a critique group, you can.
Builds friendships with fellow writers
Who doesn’t want more friends? I can’t promise you’ll have the same experience I did and make lifelong friends in your critique group, but I wouldn’t be surprised. It takes a powerful level of common interests, vulnerability, and trust to create a critique group. Naturally, friendships will come from that.
Okay, so I’ve convinced you. Critique groups are great. Does that mean there are no downsides? Can you fire your editor and just use a critique group for everything? And how do you join a critique group, exactly? What if you need to start one from scratch?
All good questions, which we’ll be answering over the next few weeks! So stay tuned . . .
Once upon a time, Tim Pietz thought editors were gray and joyless people who quenched their thirst with authors’ tears. Now, Tim Pietz is the managing editor of InkSword Editing and to his knowledge, he mostly drinks tap water. Tim graduated summa cum laude from Taylor University with a B.S. in Professional Writing and a B.A. in Strategic Communication, and since then, he’s had the privilege of editing for various authors and publishers, including Tyndale House. A teacher and encourager at heart, Tim enjoys collaborating with authors at every stage in their publishing journey.