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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Critique Groups

If we measure a board, cut it, find it too short, so we cut it again, are we ever going to end up with the correct length? No. So why, then, do we write and write, learn our manuscript doesn't quite work, so we do it over again in exactly the same way? It is this idea, this "how can we become better writers" question that I was discussing with two other educators a couple of years ago.
One educator said something like this: "The more you write, the better you get." I'd heard that many times--even thought it--but at that moment I disagreed with him, based on my belief that if all you do is write, over and over again the same way, nothing changes, especially not the writer.

So I responded with, "The more you're critiqued, the better you get."

"That's one way to look at it," he said, and when he left, I thought he seemed smug, but I, I'm ashamed to say, probably felt "smugger." After all, I "knew" I was right.

Since then, I've come to understand both viewpoints are correct. To become better writers, we do need to write. A Lot. One reason this is important is the more we write, the more we become familiar with language, story structure, and our own voice. Another reason is we develop two vital habits: reading (noticing how other authors develope ideas similar to ours) and writing (molding into our own when-and-how-to-write rhythms).

But, being "critiqued," especially by a knowledgeable critique group, is vital; it's a writer's life-blood. Why? Because, unless you're only writing for yourself (if that's the case, get a journal!), our audience is our whole purpose for writing. They are the ones we want to entertain, strengthen, or inspire. They are the ones we need to communicate with. And, a good critique group can not only tell us if we are doing our jobs well, but they can also suggest ways we can nudge our work in the right direction.

Critique groups are also great sources of emotional support. Let's face it, while writing a good book often requires help from many people, writing is, and probably always will be, a solitary occupation. Not only that, it's a little understood occupation. Sure, other writers, and sometimes other artists, understand our obsession, but most do not; and being able to connect with people just like us can provide validation more than anything else.

These are just a couple of reasons I love--rely on--my critique group. What do you appreciate about yours? Let me, and everyone else know by leaving a comment. Thanks!


Tristi Pinkston said...

I couldn't agree more. Because I do a lot of my writing late at night, the things I put down don't always make a whole lot of sense, and it's been a lifesaver to me to have friends to point that out to me. It does us no good if all we ever get are pats on the back -- we must have our weaknesses shown to us so we can turn them into strengths.

Michelle said...

I couldnt do this with out a writers group. they cheer me and give me honest nice critiques. When I am frustrated they undertand. My writing group Rocks!

Michelle J

PS. I love the pic you have on your other website of the green Chinese garden. It reminds me of the novel I am writing...

Julie Wright said...

live and breathe for both writing and the critique. I'd be nowhere without both.

Anna Maria Junus said...

We all believe (we have to believe in order to show our work to anyone) that what we write is golden.

It's the critiquer who is able to point out where we've gone wrong. We can't see it ourselves.

I found the most helpful thing is that after I'm critiqued is to put the work away for awhile when my ego isn't bruised anymore. Then I can look at my work again with new eyes and see what my critiquer sees.

C. L. Beck said...

Your opening sentence about cutting a board reminds me of one of my favorite sayings, "Measure twice, cut once." I'm not sure if the saying relates to writing, but it sure relates to everything else in life. :)

As for critiques, both the giver and the receiver benefit. Ever notice how your writing improves when you gently help someone else to become better? Suddenly you find yourself looking for and avoiding those same problems you critiqued for them.

Good blog. Thanks for your thoughts and ideas.

Stephanie Humphreys said...

I am working on getting a critique group going. I can't wait to start getting feedback from other writers.