My journey into the writing world was very much like everyone else’s. I loved making up stories as a kid, started writing them down, and kept them hidden away in notebooks and on floppy disks for years. Growing up, I never actually thought a person could make a CAREER out of writing. It was a hobby, a way to vent my frustrations, and just something I enjoyed doing.
But then, one magical day in my early twenties—when the stars aligned and the career I went to school for wasn’t panning out—I realized something…I COULD follow my passion. I COULD become a full-time writer. It was the greatest realization I ever had, followed by the greatest question…HOW?
First thing was first, I needed to start freelancing to pay the bills. I focused there and slowly rebuilt my professional-self and started career #2, assessment writing. As I was establishing that, I also started figuring out how to take my imagination, English degree, and writing skills and turn them into a book. How did a person even get those things to work together properly? And once they were working, how did the words on the page become a book on a shelf?
So, I did what I always do when I follow my heart, I threw myself in 150% and started devouring information. Along the way, I learned SOO much about the publishing industry. However, the most important thing I discovered was that I needed people I could trust to give me honest, brutal, and helpful feedback. Because no matter how awesome I thought my stories were, I needed other people to think they were awesome too in order to get them published.
What I needed was a critique group.
Luckily it didn’t take me long to find some ladies with whom I could really mesh. And after a few years, I found even more writers who spoke my language, echoed my passion, and fueled my drive. That’s when I realized that critique groups are to writers what coaches are to athletes…supportive, informative, and ESSENTIAL.
Here are the top 5 reasons I believe EVERY writer needs a critique session.
- Critique Groups Keep You Grounded
No, I don’t mean the “you can’t use your cell phone for a month” kind of grounded. I mean it in the “no, I really don’t bleed perfection when I write” kind of way.
Let’s be honest, we all think we have the best ideas in all the land. However getting that to translate properly into a coherent sentence, let alone an entire novel, is seriously freaking hard. If you find the right group of people, they’ll tell you when what you wrote doesn’t make any sense. They won’t let you go on thinking you’re F. Scott Fitzgerald when you’re really just you writing a first draft. They’ll keep it real, keep you focused, and do so in a way that makes you feel like it’s possible to fix. Which leads me to my second reason…
- Critique Groups Lift You Up
Critiques aren’t just meant to tear your writing to shreds (the perfectionist in you may be doing enough of that already). A good critique group is meant to be honest, yes, but also supportive and helpful. They’re supposed to tell you when something is really working and help you fill in the gaps when it’s not. They identify your weaknesses, and help you map out a way to make them stronger.
But there are two sub-points in making sure reason 1 and 2 above really work.
- You, as the writer, need to be receptive of feedback and not defensive. Remember that a critique is meant to HELP you, not judge you. Critique groups want you to succeed just as much as you do. For some of us (like me who thrive on constructive criticism…come on! Rip me to shreds!!! HOW DO I MAKE IT PERFECT?!?!?!?!) it’s easy to be critiqued, but for others it may not be as simple. That’s okay. Just remember you’re all playing on the same team.
- Those that do the critiquing need to remember it isn’t their book. They can offer ideas, but shouldn’t try to re-write what the person has going on. Writers have a vision, and critique partners should be guides not ghostwriters.
- Critique Groups Teach You Things
The wealth of knowledge you can gain by working closely with people in the industry is priceless. When I first started writing, the first group of women I met taught me so much about how to be a good writer and how the industry works. I call them my “Writer Big Sisters” because they LITERALLY taught me what I needed to know to survive the “writer life.” They taught me how to write and read with a WRITER’S eye and not just a READER’S eye. They taught me how to find my own voice and to take chances, how to fight through rough spots and to never give up, and how to take criticism and turn it into something great.
These three women (you know who you are) helped me believe in myself and demonstrated by example what it takes to TOTALLY ROCK as writers. They’ve all created author/educator empires that any novice would be envious of, and they’ve shared their knowledge with me along the way.
Writer retreat in California.
- Critique Groups Get You Out of Your Box
Writing is lonely. I’m talking “you’ve-given-your-dog-a-voice-in-your-head-so-you-can-have-conversations-with-him-and-not-feel-like-you’re-talking-to-yourself” lonely. Staring at a computer screen all day can be maddening. Just look at basically every movie that has ever been based around a main character who is an author. We’re lone wolves all trying to survive…stalking our words and social media sites relentlessly…wondering how other people have time to do things like shower…wondering how many more times we can rework the same sentence…wondering if we can order that shirt in maroon…
You get the point.
Writers need interaction. Luckily, there is an entire community we can interact with, and forming a critique group is a great way to start. I met ALL of my critique partners online and have met almost all of them in person. My critique group relationships have taken me to book signings, conferences, writing retreats, classes, and quick dinners while we pass through each other’s hometowns. My writer friends and I have charged into the writer community and love experiencing everything it has to offer. As my first group of critique partners and I evolved in our careers, so did our feedback needs, and we all started branching out to meet those needs. By branching out, I met three more AMAZING women who have become my “Writer Besties,” as well as critique partners. These three women have become my backbone in the writer world. Which leads to my final point…
- Critique Groups Help You Form a Tribe
Note above that I said, “my writer friends,” “Writer Big Sisters,” and “Writer Besties.” I say these things because ALL of these ladies have become far more than colleagues. They’ve become confidants, therapists, travel buddies, and partners in crime. Something amazing happens when you find people that dance to the same beat as you do…it helps ALL of you thrive.
Forming a critique group with like-minded people helps you see that you’re not crazy for having big dreams, it helps show you that you can achieve amazing things, and it helps support you when the rejections start rolling in (because they do for all of us). Finding your niche in the world is hard to do, but starting with your passion makes it a little easier. And if you find a group of people that share your goals and dreams, you can work together to help each other, help others, and become greater than you ever thought you could.
As you can see, the benefits of a critique group go far beyond just having someone else see your work. To sound corny for a minute, critique groups are the soil that helps you bloom. (So corny!) You know the saying, “you reap what you sow.”
With ALL of that being said, my Writer Besties and I have decided to start giving back to the writer community that brought us all together! We’ve started a LIVE CRITIQUE WORKSHOP that is scheduled to take off this Fall. Whether you’ve been critiqued before and want a new set of eyes on your pages, or you’ve never been critiqued before and want to get your feet wet, WE WANT TO HELP! We’ll be trickling info out over the next month, so to stay on top of it all, start following all our social medias now. We can’t wait to meet you and have you join our tribe. 😉
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Follow us on Twitter (in order going clockwise): @rffaubion ; @jessannfonseca (that’s me with brown hair!); @SBCrispell ; @CourtLeighLove