By Margaret Graton
Alone at your desk, at the coffee shop with headphones, or somewhere in between, it’s easy to forget that writing doesn’t always need to feel like self-imposed solitary confinement. Writers are a part of a special community who can be an invaluable resource when you find yourself stuck in a rut, in need of some encouragement, or if you have very practical questions about writing, editing, or querying. With so many writers out there, how do you choose the right writing group or critique partners? How do you know that they’ll help, instead of harm, you and your novels?
One important step is to decide whether you like feedback in person or digitally, privately or in a group. If you’re someone who doesn’t like being criticized in front of others (reader, my hand would immediately be in the air), you may need to meet with various critique partners one on one: someone you can converse with over email, chat, or other magical technological means. However, if it’s hard to feel connected or if the one on one meetings feels like too much pressure, maybe a group atmosphere is right for you. You may have to try a few groups (especially if you write in more than one genre) to find the dynamic you like best. And if you can’t find a group that suits your needs, why not start your own?
Once you’ve found your group or partners, be sure to take notes and, or record the session (if that’s ok with your group/partner-make sure you ask ahead of time). Even if you’re recording, take notes (or scribbles) to show that you value their feedback. If you’re like me, you can always use the recording to make sense of the random notes you’ve taken in the pressure of the moment of feedback. And once you’ve taken your notes, stay organized! Save feedback digitally or in journals and have a designated physical or digital storage space. Keeping the catalysts for any revisions you make might be nice to reference later if you (or someone else) questions a revision.
Ask questions, but wait until everyone has given their feedback first. They may not only answer your questions, but they might also bring up sections, ideas, and suggestions that you weren’t expecting. It would be a waste of time if you dominate the time with your own questions-writing groups are full of creative people. Let those people help you as much as possible, but at the same time, if you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no one. If you open your work to too many opinions, you’ll end up with a very confusing draft. If you know you’re naturally prone to this, you may need to be mindful of the number of critique partners or members of your critique group.
If you’ve never worked with a writing group or critique partner, try it soon! Your WIP will thank you.