Many of us view writing as a solitary activity, but sometimes we forget it’s also inherently social.Even if you’ve never shared your writing, you aren’t creating in isolation. We draw inspiration from our environments, life experiences, and interpersonal relationships. The books you’ve read, the hardships you’ve faced, and the meaningful conversations you’ve had show up in your characters and stories in some shape or form. And you might consider your intended audience and their reactions as you craft a scene. However, there’s only so much you can do on your own. As social beings, we need relationships to survive and thrive and the same goes for writing. If you want to elevate your work, you need to join a critique group.
Foster a sense of social support
We all know writing is hard work and a lonely endeavor. When you’re spending all those hours toiling alone at your desk, it’s easy to succumb to self-doubt and self-criticism. Simply having a space to chat with other writers can inspire us to write. It’s also enlightening to learn about other peoples’ approaches and reasons for writing. Voicing our bad habits and quirks can normalize an isolating experience and build a sense of belonging. For me, knowing other writers commonly struggle with procrastination helped me not judge myself as harshly when I wasn’t writing.
The foundation of a strong critique group are the relationships between members, so it’s important to find people who click with you. Sharing our writing is an act of vulnerability, so to get the most out of it we need to trust one another.
Learn the art of critiquing
If you are new to sharing your writing, critiquing can be scary. From a practical sense, you’ll not only learn how to help your fellow writers improve their work, you’ll develop a better eye for editing your own writing. From an emotional standpoint, it will teach you how to handle criticism — an important skill to have if you aspire to be published. Ideally, the group will have a standard process. This may mean bringing submissions to the meeting or sharing them in advance. In my group, we send out submissions a few days ahead of time, review them independently, and share our feedback in meetings. Reading in advance will give everyone more time to process and engage with each piece. It will also save time at meetings for in-depth discussions, and for members to ask questions and clarify any misunderstandings.
Holds you accountable
If you’ve been slogging through your novel and dreaming of publication, you’ve probably succumbed to procrastination. Having scheduled meetings means having a deadline and being held accountable. Knowing a handful of people are counting on you to share a chapter can give you an extra boost of motivation and transform your procrastination into progress. Meeting regularly (whether every month or every two weeks) forces you to create short term goals. For instance, if you’re working on a novel, you might prepare and submit a chapter at a time. And after a while, you’ll feel like you’re making progress rather than running in place.
Gain different perspectives
Regardless if members write in the same genre or not, having a diverse group means you’ll be exposed to a variety of perspectives— whether that’s a difference in writing experience or identities like age, race, gender, sexual orientation, and so on. Everyone has a unique perspective to offer, and their life experiences influence what they notice when they read. You might be writing a psychological thriller and a member who’s a therapist might give you insight on how make your protagonist more realistic rather than a Freudian caricature. Or you’ve set your story in a city you’ve never visited and a member who grew up there can fill you in with details you’d never find in a travel guide. Or if your book has a diverse cast, a member who’s a person of color might call you out to better portray your minority characters in a more nuanced way.
We all have insights to offer that go beyond knowledge of story arc and dialogue conventions. Bring your authentic self and lived experience to the group. You won’t know when it might come in handy. It’ll make you a better critique partner, fuel more honesty in your writing, and cultivate stronger relationships with your fellow writers.