I have never been more in awe of whoever it was that had coined the phrase “Ignorance Is Bliss”. Truer words have not been spoken. That person must have been knee-deep in documents related to the world of writing when s/he had an epiphany and yelled those words out.
No, seriously, the more I research the publishing industry and the business side of writing, the more I become aware that it is an infinite ocean.
The art of writing – though on some days, writing feels more like a science experiment gone wrong – is a slippery slope. The faster you try to scale the slope, the faster you lose your foothold and scramble downwards.
I believe writing is something that you discover, experience and learn over time and with patience and perseverance.
As I gather information about literary agents, editors, submission guidelines et al, I keep hearing two words – loud and clear – again and again. Critique Group. That seems to be the mantra today in the writing business, and rightly so!
As the publishing industry stands today, most of the houses are refusing to accept unsolicited manuscripts. In plain speak, they are not accepting manuscripts that come directly, if they are not exclusively requested by them, from the author. They will only look at manuscripts that reached their tables through a literary agent. This guarantees, for them, that the manuscript has gone through at least one round of checking for marketability and viability, along with some editing.
Literary agents, I hear, in turn want to make sure that the manuscript that they consider has at least been objectively reviewed. And this is where our two magic words come in.
A critique group consists of, as its name suggests, a group of people (writers in this case) who come together to critique each other’s work, objectively. Now, that last word is key.
So, who constitutes a good critique group for you? A group of writers who are serious about writing, and are willing to be interested in your work enough to be critical about it.
Choose a group that fits with your personality and your expectations of the level of critique. This is very important, or you’d be left being part of a group that does nothing for your learning process.
It also helps to have the various members of the group writing for different age groups and in various genres. This provides for a better scope of learning.
I have been part of a face-to-face critique group for almost a year — I’ve been lucky enough to find my peers (now my dear friends) on my first try.
I’m told this is not always so. In which case, try different groups until you can find one that suits your needs.
Online critique groups are in now. And why not? They have some advantages (along with disadvantages, of course) over the traditional group. They eliminate the need for meeting in person at a fixed time – you can work at your own pace and time. The same point may also sometimes work as a drawback. Due to lack of a restriction in meeting time, others things may bump critiquing down the list when your plate is full.
It is also advised that you belong to more than one group, in order to get as varied and in-depth an input on your work as possible.
This is what my critique group has been for me when it came to my writing:
– My support group
– My coaches
– My cheering squad
– My fellow-students
– The harshest critics of my work
And I wouldn’t want them any other way. I have been fortunate enough to find a group where everyone is serious about writing and is committed to the mutual growth of every member as a writer.
In short, your critique group is a big part of your writing family.
Here are some basics that my group follows implicitly:
When you are offering a critique:
- Begin the critique you’re offering with positive feedback.
- Any comments (even the negatives you bring up) can and should be made constructively. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to wear kid gloves every time you offer a negative comment, but it doesn’t hurt to modulate it.
- Offer your opinions as such and not as hard facts, because they are just that – your opinions.
- Critique the work and not the writer. Refrain from using words like: “You said here…”. Instead, say, “This character sounds older than his age.” etc.
- Remember that if a character expresses debatable opinions, that does not necessarily mean that the author subscribes to those opinions.
When you are receiving critique:
- Be open-minded. You are asking for feedback, so be prepared to hear both positive and negative comments. In fact, be hopeful that you will receive more of the second kind, which will help you better your work.
- Remember you are not your work – learn to effectively divorce yourself from your writing. This will allow you to receive comments/critiques much more openly.
- Be respectful of others’ opinions. You have asked for them.
- Finally, week after week, if all you hear is “Wonderful work”, “Nothing amiss” etc., then it is time to look for another group.
Did you notice something?
The principles above do not necessarily apply to only writing. They hold equally well to any other situation in life.
Consider the following scenarios, for instance:
– You are required to review a technical document written by a peer.
– You are discussing right and wrong with your child.
– You are trying to pitch a new idea to your boss.
– You are bargaining for a car at the dealership.
Aren’t the above rules relevant to these settings, too?
I think that’s the beauty of belonging to any group that thrives on the principle of give-and-take. It provides you with the discipline needed not only to have a better life in a particular field, but a better life. Period.