Posted in Tips for Young Writers

Critique Group Dos and Don’ts

I waited way to long to dip my toes into the world of critique groups. When I did, I joined an online crit group but it’s format just didn’t suit me and it was quite a few years before I tried again, this time joining a Facebook group where members would ask each other for critiques. This worked better, it was great for getting a range of feedback, but you couldn’t guarantee getting the same crit partner every time. I was really beginning to wonder, is it worth the hassle?

Then, at a conference last year, I met an author who’s YA novel had been published and she said that without her crit group she doubted she ever would have got published. That was the push I needed to have another go crit groups and I joined two through SCBWI. I couldn’t recommend being a member of a critique group enough, strongly encourage you to join one, and I have some suggestions to make your foray into crit groups a success.

Crit group dos and don’ts
  1. Do give honest feedback

If you don’t give your honest opinion how can the other people in your group improve? Writers join crit groups to improve their craft, not get a pat on the back and be told how awesome they are (that’s what blogs are for 😉 ). Of course, this is easier when your honest opinion is positive, when it’s not it can be hard to speak your mind. A good tip is to keep your criticism constructive – stuff they can actually work on – and try to find three positives for every negative.

2. Don’t be mean

Being honest is not code for being a nasty-pastie. It’s never OK to use insulting language or put downs and it’s never OK to disparage someone’s race, gender, sex or sexuality. There are plenty of ways to let someone know they need to work on something without being a dick. It’s the difference between,’you’ve got quite a few typos – you might want to fix them up in a later draft’ and ‘did you go to primary school? Your spelling sucks’.

3. Do be open to criticism

Letting other people read and comment on your work can be really difficult. You’re putting a little bit of your soul on show and it can be hard not to take things personally. But, if you really want to improve in your craft, you need to be open to constructive criticism. If a comment really stings, take a breather, go for a walk, give it a few days or even weeks to process. You’ll probably find that you end up agreeing with what your crit partner has said, and then your work can only get better.

4. Don’t shoot the messenger

No one likes being asked for advice, only to have it thrown back in their face. They like it even less when the person they’re advising is rude or defensive. Remember, your crit partners are trying to help you. Everyone leads busy lives, no one has time to give you criticism just to make your feel bad. If you don’t agree with something someone has said about your work just thank them for their opinion, and move on.

5. Do commit to the group

Everyone’s life is busy. Barring exceptional circumstances (illness, death in the family, holiday, etc), if you’re part of a crit group then you need to show up and do the work every time. They’ve gone to the trouble of reading and critiquing your work, you should treat them with the same respect. It’s like any other team you’re a part of – it doesn’t work unless everyone is pulling their weight. If an exceptional circumstance does crop up, let the group know and step back for a bit. If you just can give it the time and effort it needs, then do everyone a favour and step out of the group. Basically, know when to quit.

6. Don’t write a thesis on their work

There’s a balance between too little feedback and too much. Too much feedback is overwhelming. It’s useful for everyone to agree right from the start what level of feedback is expected, whether feedback will be limited to the story itself or include things like spelling and punctuation, and how much feedback is necessary. Track changes is obviously a great tool and allows you to be really specific with your feedback, but in many case a few paragraphs at the end of the work can be all you need to give.

I hope these tips help you enjoy your crit group and get a lot out of it.

Are you part of a critique group? Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Do you think it’s been worthwhile?

Posted in Tips for Young Writers

Be Brave – Read Your Work to Others

Yesterday evening, I had to do something scary. Or, be brave – which is the same but makes me sound better. So, I was being brave. I went to a writing group meeting at my local library and everyone in attendance read out a five minute piece of work. In front of everyone else. I didn’t know anyone.

See how brave I am?

The thing is, even though I read too fast and half-way through was distracted by the thought that I hadn’t washed my teeth after dinner (I didn’t remember until the end that I hadn’t had dinner yet), it was great. I met nice people, with similar interests, who gave me some feedback on my work (and my reading speed). No one booed me off the stage or made me cry, no stood up and shouted, “you’re a fake!” and I managed to not spontaneously combust.

And if I can do it, you can too.

What’s more, chances are your library or neighbourhood house does something similar. And, if not, you my find that there’s a writers’ group in your community. From attending this one event, I’ve learnt about a group in a town ten minutes from mine and I’m going to visit next week. Maybe we’ll be a good fit for each other, maybe we won’t but I won’t lose anything by going and there really is so much to gain from having your work critiqued (fancy word for constructive feedback) by others.

Don’t be put off by your age, either. The librarian running last night’s even told me that she’s headed up a youth writing group in the main library for the past three years, so seek out something similar at your library or suggest it to your librarian. Or maybe you could encourage your English teacher to start one at school. It is definitely daunting sharing your work with others, but in a safe and respectful environment, it can also be really exhilarating

Do you already share your work with others? Or, do you have a writing group you go to? I’d love to hear about it.