Are writing critique groups helpful?

Weekday Wisdom Episode 60

Have you considered joining a writing critique group? Then you’ll want to read or watch on to find out what I have to say about them.

Are writing critique groups helpful?

Today’s question comes from Oljavera, who asked me during my Ask Me Anything event:

“Are you part of a critique group
or do you depend solely on your editor/publisher for feedback?”

I have not had a lot of good experiences with critique groups. I first started working with critique groups in the early 1980s. Back then, the groups I joined used a listserv, so it was all done online. My experiences where either

A) Everything I wrote was roses and puppy dogs or I could walk on water. This is not helpful. It doesn’t help me change, or grow, or improve my story in any way.

B) There always seemed to be that one jerk in the group who would rip everything to shreds because that’s just what that person liked to do. I remember one particular story got ripped to shreds. I was told that the emotions the characters were experiencing were all very superficial, which hurt me deeply because I was expressing my own emotions at the time. I was not able to pull myself apart from that.

So critique groups can be very good, however, you have to be very careful about the ones you go to. You need to make sure of the people there are all on the same page and agree that everyone is going to provide constructive critiques. That means they’re not going to rip you to shreds just because they can. They’re not be mean and self-serving. They’re going to say things like, “This story would work better for me if you changed this. I think you should go in this direction…”

Then you take all of the feedback you received and you run it through your own filter, because sometimes the feedback may say, “Well I think you should do this.” And it’s not that you need to do “this.” It’s that you didn’t communicate what you wanted to communicate well enough, so the person didn’t understand. Therefore, you need to go back and rework it.

I belong to a Toastmasters group now that is for writers. We read our works as speeches. And sometimes we turn our speeches into written work. It goes both ways. And then we do these round-robin critiques. And those, I’ve found, were much more helpful. But I think in part that’s because the people in the group are older and more experienced.

So, can you find a group of your peers that are helpful? It all depends on their maturity level. If you’ve got a lot of people who are immature — and that doesn’t necessarily mean younger — there are immature people who are older. If you’ve got people in there who are immature and not willing to give constructive criticism, then the group is going to be harmful.

The other part of that question was, so I depend on my editor or publisher for feedback. Yes and No. I think everybody needs to have at least one editor go through their work. My work tends to be pretty clean when it gets to the editor because I really go through it. But, I still miss stuff and that’s why you really need a good editor.

I mentioned this is in yesterday’s video, you need a good editor. And there are several different types of editors, which I think I will talk about in another episode. Basically, there are proofreaders, there are substantive editors, and then there are hybrid editors.

I believe that it’s always a good idea o have a proofreader. And it’s good to have that proofreader be someone who has not read your work before. I used to work on newsletters for various companies that I worked for. There would be a group of us who would proof each draft. So, by the time the final draft came through, we had all read the stuff so many times that typo’s made it by us every time. This was because we knew what was supposed to be there. And that’s what you see.

That’s why you need a second pair of eyes that has not seen that work before. They’re going to see what’s actually there, not what they know should be there.

Depending on where you are in your work, a substantive editor can be really good, as well. A substantive editor is someone who takes your work and says, “You know what? The organization will work better this way.” Or, “You need to beef this part up and dial this one back.” They basically make your overall vision come through more strongly.

In summary, yes, critique groups can be helpful, but you have to be very careful about the membership and the rules of the critique group. Yes, you need an editor. Absolutely. And if you’re working with a traditional publisher, they will assign you an editor. And hopefully you’ll have a good relationship with that person. If you are publishing on your own, you can hire an editor. There are tons of freelance editors available. I’m going to be hiring one within the next two months for my next book.

So what do I do personally? I really don’t depend on critique groups. I had really bad experiences. And with the longer works, it’s harder to get really good feedback because they can only see one small section at a time.

Do I depend on the editor? Yes. The few times I’ve not depended on an editor, ah! disaster. Always, always have an editor.

And your publisher? It depends on the publisher. Sometimes they’ll assign you an editor. Sometimes they won’t “get” your project and that’s when you don’t go with that publisher. It all depends.

I hope you found today’s information helpful.

Remember this:
Think outside that box,
because that box prevents you from living up to your potential.
It keeps you safe in the status quo.
Spread your wings and fly.
Because you — yes you — are capable of more than you know.

Please post a comment belowIf you liked this video, please go to YouTube and like it there. Leave a comment on my blog below. I love to hear from the people who watch these videos! And if you’ve got a question for an upcoming video, it can be anything on book writing, creating products, mindset, anything that really helps you on your Legacy Creator’s Journey, or with public speaking. Ask me your questions, I will answer them in a future video. I really want the Weekday Wisdom to be something that you value and look forward to watching.

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About the author

Carma Spence is an international best selling author and award-winning speaker who helps women, introverts and shy people vanquish Mind Goblins, unleash their content creation superpowers and communicate their message with confidence so that they can create meaningful and fulfilling legacies.

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