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Guest Blogger Kristi Helvig: Why Critique Groups Rock

Please welcome guest blogger Kristi Helvig, a familiar face in the comment box. She's hear to tell you the many reasons why critique groups are awesome! When you're done reading her fabulous article, please visit her group blog, Sisters in Scribe.

Why Critique Groups Rock

So, you're an aspiring writer and have accomplished the amazing task of actually finishing a novel. Chances are you either patted yourself on the back or went shrieking through the streets proclaiming that you're a novelist (depending on your personality). However, then the moment comes when you sit back and think "Now what?" Well, here's what I think a fabulous next step should be -- before spamming the entire publishing community with the genius that is your manuscript. Join a critique group. "Why?" you might ask as defensive thoughts flood your mind such as: "My book is brilliant as is,” “I don't want outside influences muting my 'voice',” or “I don't want anyone stealing my never-been-thought of-in-the-history-of-time idea about space monkeys and their quest for the perfect banana." You get the idea.

Here's why
. If you find a GOOD critique group, be it online or in person (and there are pros and cons of each), they can do the following:

1) They are objective about your work. Well, at least more so than you. It can be extremely difficult to be objective about your own work. For instance, those of you with kids, how many of you think your child is not the cutest/most brilliant/talented example of small humanity out there. When you're attached to something - and after working on a novel for 6 months or 6 years, who isn't - it's difficult to step back and see where you might need help. Your critique group has that distance and can often point out problem areas much more easily.

2) They make you a better writer. Yes, really. No matter how great you think you are - and you might be great - you can get even better with the help of a good group. Writing in different POV's, characterization, story arc and use of dialogue are just a few examples of how the group can push you to do your best. They also can help point out your individual writing quirks - be it overuse of a certain word or the dreaded telling rather than showing. Also, critiquing the work of others in your group also makes you a better writer.

3) They encourage and support you. And not in a Paula Abdul, smoke up your ass kind of way. We share our ups and downs and have a "we're all in this together" mentality. Writing can be a tough and solitary experience, so it's nice having a built-in support group. When someone gets good news, it's so much fun to celebrate as a group and gives hope and motivation to the others. Plus, it's fun going to conferences where I actually know people there.

4) They serve as a collective barometer for your work. After getting a bunch of feedback from different personalities, part of your job is to decide which changes to incorporate and which don't serve your story. One of the best things about group feedback is you know there's a legitimate problem when more than one person points out the same issue with something in your story. For instance, I had multiple people tell me a line in my first chapter was funny but that the reference would be outdated by the time the book was published - so I changed it. On the flip side, when you have multiple people give you compliments on the same thing, you know it's well-earned and not the smoke up the ass thing.

5) They are a wealth of resources. I feel fortunate to be part of two wonderful critique groups and everyone has information that is shared with the group. Some of the published authors in my one group share information about publishing houses and editors that they like. Just this week, one woman in my group sent me a list of agents she thought would be a good fit for my book after reading my query. I've learned so much about the business end of things from my critique groups and it's been invaluable information.

As you can guess, I LOVE my critique groups. They consist of amazing, talented, persistent women who love writing as much as I do. So there you have my top 5 reasons to be in such a group. If you're in a group that doesn't have these 5 elements and feels more negative in nature, then maybe it's time to look for another group. NOTE: I found both of mine through SCBWI.

So, what have I missed? What are your favorite things about being in a critique group?
Bio: Kristi is a clinical psychologist and aspiring YA writer who is one of the contributors to the Sisters in Scribe blog.


Linda Maye Adams said...

One that's missing: Giving critiques. I've learned a lot about how to spot and fix problems in mine by giving critiques

But I've also had some bad experiences with critiques and have been reluctant to return to a group. I write in omniscient viewpoint, and I've found that writers consistently react badly to ANY use it. Omni writers tend not to get critiques of the story but admonishments not to use the viewpoint. I've actually had someone say, "I'm sure you know your story, but here's how you would do it in third" as if the story was broken for being in omni. Every time I've thought of trying a critique group, I think about the negative (as in extremely unhelpful) critiques the omni will get and decided it's not a good use of time or the emotional energy.

Unknown said...

Hi Linda - thanks for reading. I did include giving critiques within #2 but didn't go into depth about it. You're absolutely right - giving critiques also makes you a better writer.

Also, a negative critique group is worse than no critique group -- but a great crit group can elevate your writing to a whole new level. Best of luck to you!

Jonathon Arntson said...

Great, great post! Thanks for shedding light on a subject that makes scaredy cats out of most writers.

I don't have a finished novel to share with a group, yet (although I have completed several picture books), but I can tell you the idea of sharing has been bogging down my writing mind. I can finally push the self-assigned pressure away and get a move on!

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

getting a good group is key! :)

Lacey J Edwards said...

Great post, Kristi.

And big thanks to Literary Rambles for inviting my "sister" to your blog!

pat said...

I belong to a great critique group but you've inspired me to insist that we meet more regularly.

Jeanne Ryan (Serenissima) said...

Hi Kristi -

If I weren't already in two critique groups, your post would make me want to join one!

I find it so helpful to get fresh eyes on my work. No matter how many times I've edited something myself, my reviewers always find something that can be improved. That's so important in this tough market, where your work has to sparkle to get noticed.


Anne R. Allen said...

This is a great post, with essential information. No writer should work in a vacuum. It leads to lots of wasted time as well as heartache. We write to communicate, and a critique group is one of the best ways to find out if we're succeeding.

One caveat: do choose your group carefully. Make sure at least some members read your genre. And beware of bullies who give negative feedback that has nothing to do with the quality of your work. Sometimes the wrong group can do damage.

Casey Something said...

I love this post, Kristi. I'm so glad you offered it up!

The key is definitely finding a critique group that really works for your writing, personality, and critique style. A bad critique group is like a bad agent, in my opinion, they can do a lot of damage to your writing career and confidence!

Thanks again!

Unknown said...

Casey - thanks so much for having me. It's been a blast!

@Jonathan - I completely understand how you feel. I was a nervous wreck when I first sent my work out to my first group. It is a very vulnerable feeling to put yourself out there like that, but it's the best thing I ever did as far as my writing. Also, I've been blessed to find two amazing groups!

Sonia Elabd said...


I couldn't agree more (and also the reason why I've been searching for one forever)!

Beth said...

Great post, Kristi. I don't think I'd be published without my group. I've learned so much from them, both from hearing their comments on my work, and from editing theirs. Maybe I've just been very lucky, but almost all the writers I've worked with (in writing classes and critique groups) have been incredibly supportive.

Laura Pauling said...

I agree. Crit groups are a must. Just know that it's okay to walk away from one that is not meeting your needs. Or where you are giving, way more than you are receiving. Whether it's a crit group or a writer friend, it really helps to get an objective opinion! :) Laura

Elana Johnson said...

Kristi, amazing guest post. I agree with you on every point. I recently joined SCBWI and need to get into the boards/forums more. Thanks!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Great post...Now I'm hopping over to your blog Kristi.

Thermocline said...

I need to stop dawdling and find a group. Thanks for the push, Kristi.

PJ Hoover said...

Though no longer an official group, I love my critique network. They offer support and great thoughts on revision. What more could anyone ask for?

Lisa Nowak said...

Having a critic group is such a no-brainer to me now that it's a little surprising to remember what it was like not to have one. While a critique group does help improve the writing, one of the biggest things mine do for me is provide emotional support. And I love belonging to a community of people who understand the ups and downs of writing.