Posts Tagged ‘writing groups’

Written by:
Wendi Friend

A critique is a person’s opinions and suggestions regarding an author’s work. Critiques can answer elemental questions regarding plot, character development, believability, and more. As such, they can provide insights into an author’s work and help to correct technical errors. But having others comment and make suggestions for your writing is only one way to draw benefit from critiques. The best way to benefit from critiques is giving them.

When a writer is serious about presenting their work for publication, they research the markets and writer resources, continuously improving upon their craft. When they do, they come across a myriad of advice. Among all the advice available, certain suggestions have become common factors. The leading offer of advice is to involve yourself in writing groups and opportunities to “exchange” critiques with other writers. By critiquing the work of other writers, one gains exposure to the variety of writing styles and subjects flowing about the realm of writing in search of recognition. Regularly reading the writing “hot off the presses” from both aspiring and established writers, common habits or “mistakes” can be identified. Once identified, they can be eliminated from your own writing. In essence, you’re learning to write better by editing the work of others. We learn by editing because we read the work of others with a more critical and less familiar eye than we do our own work.

For example, in reviewing the work of an associate, I noticed the tendency to start sentences with the word “so”. On one hand, it shows the author’s ability to write as he would have spoken. In his speech, he often does start his sentences with that word. In speech, extra words often go unnoticed because our focus isn’t only on the words, but on the way they’re being spoken. On paper, however, those habits stand out. When you spot these types of tendencies in the work of others, you will begin to see some habits in your own writing. When you can identify and eliminate habits during your own editorial process, you save yourself — and others — from having them pointed out when the piece is offered for critique!

Just the knowledge that critiques are helpful is a fantastic tool to writers, but useless tool when not applied. A hammer in a toolbox can’t pound a nail. It takes action. What stops most people from getting associated with other writers to review and edit each other’s work? Fear. Many of today’s writers don’t have college degrees, or in some cases, even high school diplomas. We then have underlying fears that we’re not “smart enough” to give advice to others, particularly if they’re already published writers. Heck, that’s intimidating!

Giving a critique isn’t as difficult as you may think. Just think of the questions you’d want answered about your own work, then offer those answers to the writer whose work you’re reading. Are you interested in the story? Was the reading smooth? Vocabulary, was it simple enough to understand, yet not so elementary it bores readers? Did the plot captivate attention? Do the characters feel real and believable?

Writers often read their own work so many times, they miss little misprints that most spell checkers don’t catch, such as “this” where “his” should have been, or “there’s” where it should have been “theirs”. Every writer has their own misspellings, punctuation habits, and style. If there’s a sentence you find difficult to read, point that out to the author. We don’t often trip on our own words, but others can and do. Most of those sentences can be easily clarified by the addition, removal, or relocation of as little as one word. The author just needs to know where the bumps are located.

In some critique groups I’ve been involved with, I’ve noticed some members have an abrasive style. Sugar coating is not required, although a bit more than “I liked it” is generally appreciated. But some people cut right to the chase with razor sharp opinions and total lack of empathy. There isn’t a need to slaughter anyone else’s writing, writing style, education, or lack of. Everyone needs encouragement; no one appreciates insult. Writers of every genre and experience level should offer encouragement and support to each other. We’ve chosen a difficult field that leads down an often lonely road.

There’s still even more benefit to be obtained from involvement with critique groups. You never know who you’re going to meet! People from all walks of life have merged into the Internet melting pot. From every culture, country, background, religion, etc., writers are coming together. In one group, you may find a young writer experimenting with his newly found muse, coupled with an author who has published multiple articles and books. You also never know whose needs your undiscovered talents may fill. It is not uncommon for editors to lurk in such areas to find fresh writers who’ve not yet been “tampered with” by the reality of the publishing world.

All things considered, if you’re still not ready to dip your toes into the reality of giving or receiving critiques, then if nothing else, READ THEM! You’ll learn more than you can imagine by watching how writers interact and communicate with each other.

Of course, there must also be caution. There are always those who prey on others with less experience. Not many people are interested in stealing the work of others, not blatantly, anyway. But there are cases in which writers are taken advantage of — situations where writers are offered bogus contracts, conned out of “reading fees”, suckered into contests, etc. You always want to use common sense and do your homework. Protect your writing, be careful who you give personal information, and do not pay to have others read or critique your work. There are several free writing groups available with other writers just like you who want to know if they’re on the right track.

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