Julia Cameron in The Artists Way says, “It is my experience as a teacher that an atmosphere of safety and trust is critical to creative growth.” Where can we find such a place? The answer: a critique group.
From my own experience, I have learned that a good critique group can help a writer improve their art in many practical ways. For example: a good critique group will help you stick to a routine writing schedule with weekly and/or monthly submissions. A regular deadline will encourage you to write even with the business of a hectic job, family obligations, and a full social life. Writers’ communities can console you during the hard times of rejections and help celebrate your achievements. It’s a secure place where you can continue to evolve and improve as a writer. In these groups you will find writing buddies, the friends who share your passion about books, publishing, and the writing craft. Together, as a group, you can build a strong foundation to weather the challenges and opportunities you will face as writers. All of the above are good reasons for sharing your work in this welcoming setting.
However, if you are sharing your work purely for adulation and not honest criticism, you will be disappointed with the critiquing experience. And, if your sole purpose of joining a writers’ community is to get your book published, you are bound to be disillusioned. The best reason to join a critique group is a desire to learn more about the craft from people who are continually striving to improve their own writing skills.
As with any organization, there should be clear rules that describe the procedures its members follow. Below are seven rules from my own critique group.
- Members will give several positive and complimentary comments first before any negative feedback.
- Critiques must be made about the writing, not the author.
- Sometimes, the writer may choose to wear a cone of silence until the group has finished all feedback. Then the writer will ask questions or seek clarification.
- Alternately, the writer may wish to participate in the discussion; however, they should never defend their work. This can lead to heated debate and one-on-one discussions.
- One facilitator will monitor the time to ensure every writer has had equal time to critic and comment, and that each work is given the same amount of discussion.
- At all times, the group should have respect for the writing, the writer, and the group itself.
- Every writer should leave the group fully inspired to dig into their work again.
Of course, maintaining a balance between life and writing is important. So when choosing a critique group, be aware of its policies on submission deadlines. Are you able to deliver work regularly once a month or once a week? Sometimes, a writer can get so tied up in reading and critiquing, the actual time for writing may suffer.
My own critique group came together when a few of us met at a the Society of Childrens’ Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference. Attending conferences can increase your network of writing friends. Many are in the same situation, looking for a group of like-minded writers who want to share their work to improve their craft. Taking writing workshops also helps us to meet others who might be interested in creating a writing group. SCBWI offers “blue boards,” a private forum where writers can post that they are interested in joining a group. Check bookstores and libraries. Many on-line resources exist which can help you to find a writing group.
Julia Cameron refers to critique groups as “Forming a Sacred Circle.” She says, “We are meant to midwife dreams for one another.” How do we know when we are part of this Sacred Circle, in a good critique group? When we submit our work, knowing we have released it to a safe group of people, we are where we belong. When we see our writing improve because of helpful critiques, we know we are in a Sacred Circle. When we cheer at the good news that a fellow member has signed on with an agent or editor, we can smile because soon it will be our turn to receive the congratulations! When our writing group becomes our friends and our family, we are in a good critique group. We are in a sacred circle of writers.
Are you in a critique group? Are you looking for a sacred circle of writers? Let’s talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of critique groups.