For a writer, a critique group can be invaluable. Fundamental, it’s designed for other writers to react and provide feedback to a work. Some groups have strict rules where the author must sit quietly until the critique ends before asking questions. The weekly group I’m in is less formal, allowing and encouraging a back and forth between author and reader.
Three parts are necessary for critique group: The author (critiquee), the readers (critiquers), and the work. The author produces the work and the readers read it and comment.
The work can be fiction or non-fiction. It can be an article, blog post, poem, short story, or part of a longer work. It can even be an outline. The work can be a first draft or a revised draft.
I tend to submit revised works, works that I think are the best I can produce. That way, the critiques are the most useful. I want to hear comments that makes me think, push me to a new level. Likewise, I prefer reading revised works.
Over the course of several submissions, I learned the strong suits of my work’s readers. Some are excellent at grammar, some at structure while others are good at characterization or motivations. When I hear a comment from a reader regarding an area where they’re particularly good, I give it extra weight.
Some readers will try to “rewrite” the story to fit their tastes. A strong signal of this is suggesting different plot points or plot outcomes without having a strong reason why what’s on the page doesn’t work. This is one of the reasons I like to ask “why” about comments. Why did X strike you like that? If I get the sense that a reader wants something different because that’s how he would’ve done it and there’s not a true issue, I tend to let that comment go by unaddressed in a revision.
Further, I add that to my filter for the reader. All of their future comments will go through that filter before I incorporate them into my work. Likewise, if a reader demonstrates a story structure problem with their own submissions and points to a structure issue in mine, I won’t give it much weight. In short, not only do the readers’ critiques build a filter, their own submissions build a filter.
In the end, author must take the critiques, evaluate them, and incorporate what’s useful into the work.
Some authors, however, don’t approach critique groups in a positive manner. Some seek validation, wanting others to say their work is perfect as is. Some want the group to write their story for them. Some want to demonstrate how smart they are. In the end, their writing doesn’t change. That means they either hear the same comments week after week, or no comments because the reader doesn’t waste his time on a story where his comments are being ignored.
These authors tend to leave groups like the one I’m in. Some do so quietly, and other leave with an angry roar. I don’t feel bad about it–I’m giving my best, honest opinion. After all, that’s the stated purpose for why we’re there. I can’t do anything about the fact that it wasn’t what you wanted to hear.
For the writer who wishes to improve, I recommend finding a group where he can receive honest critiques and understand the “why” behind the comments.The goal is to step up to the next level, after all.