In my previous experiences with academic and corporate writing, I usually had people around me–peers and supervisors–who would read over my draft and provide feedback so I could improve it before submitting to professors, journals, editors, or clients. I found this process extremely helpful, and it definitely made me a better writer. I loved having colleagues to bounce ideas off, to suggest questions or directions I hadn’t thought of, and to make sure what I was thinking and writing matched.
When I struck out on my own and started writing fiction I discovered that I missed the camaraderie and encouragement that my fellow writers provided. I was very excited to discover that fiction writers had a similar support group…the critique group. In an effort to join such a group, I did some research and found some wonderful writing groups in my area. I was even more excited to discover that these groups also included critique groups.
I find one of the groups significantly more helpful than the other, but for my needs neither one is ideal. Both groups are open to any writer of any genre or experience level. In both groups, writers come with a short piece or chapter to read and copies to hand out. While reading, the other members of the group make notes on the copy. Then, each member has a chance to give feedback regarding what they liked, disliked, questioned, or suggestions. So far, so good. Some of the members are brilliant writers, some are published, some see writing as a hobby, some write as their career. Some of the critiques are extremely helpful, and many are totally useless. A number of people are coming to critique group when they should be going to the community college for composition, grammar, and creative writing classes. Quite a few only want pats on the back, and get defensive when offered suggestions or useful criticism. And most frustrating to me is when people offer critiques of a genre in which they are obviously unfamiliar.
Which leads me to wonder if the critique group in general is something I really need, or if I just haven’t found the right critique group. Would I have a different attitude if I could find a group that all wrote in the same genre and had similar levels of experience and ability? But then, as I understand it, the goal of critique groups is to help writers improve, so we must be patient and encouraging of the new writers. Is it selfish of me to not want to listen to someone’s writing when I don’t enjoy their genre, or their writing is honestly worse than the high school students I used to teach? I have come to really like a lot of the people in the group, but I wonder if this is the best use of my time.
I would love some feedback from other writers. Do you find critique groups helpful or not, and why? Is there a way to find a more specific group that would better serve my purpose? Have you had any experience with online critique groups? Thanks in advance for your thoughts and suggestions.