I have a book coming out in March.
Even as I type that sentence, I still can't believe it. The very idea seems like a fairy tale, something I dreamed about for years, but never expect to come true. As I try to wrap my brain around this new, exciting reality, one question continues to surface: how did this happen? The answer quickly follows: my critique group.
A critique group has been the single best thing I've done for my writing career. I've been a part of two different ones and have grown immeasurably in both. In honor of these amazing folks, here's my top five reasons of why I love my critique group.
1.They help me find balance in my self perception
I swing back and forth on the self-image pendulum between "I am the most creative genius of all time" to "I can barely construct a sentence and everything I write is garbage" (often within the same day). These two extreme are not a good place to create from. Neither represents the truth. A critique group has helped me find a place of realistic acceptance of both my strengths and weaknesses as a writer
2. They light a fire under my tail feathers (or put it out)
It's never fun to show up to my group with no writer news to report, no writing to critique, no submissions to moan over. Critique group forces me to meet deadlines, push through difficult scenes and send off another three query letters, even if I'm feeling less than hopeful about the results. For those of us who fall more on the workaholic end of the spectrum, critique group can help us look at our self-created demands and offer wisdom about which of them might be unrealistic.
3. They celebrate successes and bemoan failures
This week I celebrated a success. One of the members of my critique group, Linda Osmundson, won the Western Heritage Award for her book How The West Was Drawn: Women’s Art. Celebrating a success with my writing buddies is one of my favorite things. Other weeks different members (myself included) share a writing disappointment, something we'd hoped for that fell through. The encouragement and sympathy I receive when this happens help me find the motivation to continue on, even in the face of rejection.
4. They tell it like it is
When I ask for friends or family members to read through something I've written and give me their thoughts, usually one of two things:
- They give me a vague, polite accolade like, "it was really sweet" or "what a nice story." While that's fun to hear, it doesn't help me grow as a writer or recognize the strengths in my writing.
- The braver ones tell me, "this part didn't work" or "that part was strange/confusing" after which I erupt into rage or self-loathing. For some reason, I can't hear this criticism from family and friends, but I can hear it from my critique group (who are my friends, but writer friends). I think this is because their opinion comes from a place of professional criticism, while it's hard not to take the other as a personal criticism. Plus, my group usually has good suggestions about how to fix the problem, while non-writers often don't.
5. No matter what, they teach me more about writing
Unlike the writing courses I took in college, I always leave my critique group meetings with new knowledge and new ideas. Everyone in the group is out there in the actual writing world, not in the insulated halls of how things should or used to work. Educational classes are wonderful and give writers a great foundation; however, the literary world is changing so quickly, unless someone is completely immersed in it, it's nearly impossible to keep up with new developments. I cannot overemphasize how invaluable it is for me to hear about new developments in publishing, research, genre, etc. that my critique group reports each week from their own experiences. These discussions serve to keep me very up-to-date with the writing world and I know of no other way I could stay so current.
So, if you're in a critique group, what are your favorite take-aways from these writerly meetings? And if you're not in one, go find one, quickly!