What Is A Critique Group Anyway?

Was a question my husband asked recently, even though I have been an active member of two groups for more than two years;
Me: It’s an online group where writers get together to read and comment on each other’s writing.
Husband: So how does it work then?
Me: I upload a chapter of my latest wip to the site and members will download it, make comments on the technical structure, characters and storyline and re-post it for me to look at.
Husband: That sounds like a lot of work.
Me: Actually it is, but the other members do it for me as well, so I receive a lot of help with my own story too.
Husband: What makes this group of random people qualified to do that?
Me: Some have degrees in creative writing and English literature, while others have years of writing and editing experience. But that’s not relevant, no one sets themselves up as an expert.
Husband: So why would any of them listen to you? And why do you listen to them?
Me: I offer advice which has been given to me by other writers and things I have learned along the way and pass them on to other writers. They don’t have to take the advice and nor do I.
Husband: But who’s to say you aren’t all simply recycling bad habits?
Me: Experience counts for a lot. The more you read, write and critique other’s work, the more you learn. My writing is totally different since I started with the groups.
Husband: In what way?
Me: Well, do you know what PoV, active versus passive voice, dialogue tags and showing versus telling means?
Husband: Not a clue.
Me: Well neither did I - but I do now.
Husband: But you spend more time commenting on other people’s work than you do on your own- what’s the point of that?
Me: Where else would I learn how to write a story unless people read it for me and give me feedback? Whenever I get stuck with a character or a storyline, the group have always got ideas on how to progress it.
Husband: I’ll bet they do.
Me: What do you mean by that?
Husband: Just that woman are good at making things up.
Me: There are men in these groups too – sometimes.
Husband: I wondered what the attraction was.
Me: I wish – no, this is intense training I could never get anywhere else. I wouldn’t consider anything I wrote ready for publication until it has been through at least one group. I’m putting my current wip through both of them.
Husband: Does it actually help, or do you just read what they have to say and stick with your original work anyway?
Me: I can if I want to, but actually I don’t. Every critique I receive, I run the comments alongside my writing to see if it makes the narrative sound better. It works more often than I care to admit.
Husband: So you re-write a chapter at least six times each? [Horrified look on face]
Me: More actually.
Husband: Is that really necessary?
Me: Writing is re-writing.
Husband: Who said that?
Me: No idea, I heard it somewhere.
Husband: On a critique group?
Me: Possibly. It's true though.
Husband: Hmm.......sounds like an awful lot of intense work for nothing.
Me: If you mean cash – and I know you do, that’s not the point. It might help make me a bestselling author. Even if it doesn’t, I really enjoy it.
Husband: But you are glued to that computer all the time!
Me: I think about my characters in bed too.
Husband: Pardon?
Me: Nothing. Oooh! What's that noise?
Husband: It's the vacuum cleaner
Me: I knew that.


Wendy said…
Priceless! :)
Gemini Sasson said…
Oh, Anita, this is all just too true! Momentum is a big reason for me to be in a crit. group. It keeps me working at a regular pace. Also, I can't tell you how many 'duh!' moments I have when a critter points out some verbal blunder I made. The support is extremely valuable, too. Kind of like free psychotherapy for writers.

BTW, I take it your husband is left-brained (as is mine)? Yesterday I was in the car with my husband and I zoned out for about ten minutes - I was thinking up a new story, but he probably thought I was mad at him for going over budget at the grocery.
Lisa Yarde said…
Crit groups make such sense to me, I don't know how I managed for years without one.
Ginger Simpson said…
Very well-explained. As for the recycling misinformation, it might happen for a moment, but someone is bound to set you straight.

The hardest part of being in a critique group for me is trying to decide which helpful input to apply and which to ignore because I prefer my own style. Sometimes, the suggestions are merely a way to reword what I've said. I'm sure you've seen the same. *grin*

I just got edits back AGAIN on Sparta Rose, and it's amazing how many alterations and additions a new editor wants, even after this work has been critiqued and EDITED. I'm beginning to think much of reading and suggesting is purely preferential. I wonder if we will ever stop questioning our own abilities. *sigh*

It's nice to have my computer back.


Jane Beckenham said…
What a hoot....my husband just asks if the book has pictures, then rolls his eyes!

But you're right, crit groups are priceless, and it is from others crits of our work that we learn to write better. Plus I know I can ask for help if i need it, and that is priceless.
Jane Beckenham
Great article.
After five years in a critique group, I couldn't be without one.
Anita Davison said…
Thank you all for stopping by, I knew you would all empathise with this! Anita
Mirella Patzer said…
Loved this post. Only writers can understand our world. I'm married to an ex-cop so all his comments pertain to protecting my work from those who might steal it, trusting those on the internet, etc. Wonderful post. Thanks for sharing


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