So you read last week’s blog post about New Year’s resolutions for writers and have joined or started a writing group. Awesome! Of course, you want to take advantage of the benefits of being in a writer’s group and really polish those writing skills. Here are some simple tips to help you focus your time and get the most out of the experience.
1. Choose writers in your genre. It’s important when you form a critique group that everyone is working from some simple shared assumptions and common knowledge about the type of books you are writing. Don’t know writers in your area? Check out local writing conferences and writer’s organizations like Romance Writers of America , Mystery Writers of America, and SCBWI to find other authors in your area who are interested in the kind of writing you want to pursue. Social media like Facebook and Twitter can also be a great way to find critique buddies who are writing in your genre. Skype and Google hangout are also great ways to connect with other writers across the country if you can’t find authors in your area you would like to work with.
2. Listen to constructive criticism, don’t resist! Writing is a difficult journey and hearing and processing criticism of your work can be the most challenging part. Sometimes it’s tempting for writers to try to justify and fight for their choices. I’m all for standing by your work, but if you’re waiting for your turn to speak it can be difficult to truly understand what your critique partners are saying. I’d suggest adopting a policy of none-response while each author’s work is being critiqued. This allows the most time for writers to listen to their peers comments and consider what their critique partners have to say. You can put aside some time to ask clarifying questions at the end of the critique.
3. Take notes. Critique groups can be a great way to generate ideas for revision, but often writer’s get overwhelmed with the wealth of information coming their way. Later when they are revising it can be hard to remember what needs to be done! Write down helpful feedback so you can reference it at any point. It might also be helpful to have each member write a short critique so you have each person’s thoughts in writing.
4. Ask questions. Too often authors are afraid to ask for feedback on the parts or their work they feel they need the most help. Make sure you put aside a time at the end of the critique where you can ask the group questions about your work that might not have been addressed during the general critique. Coming into each session with a short list (2-4 questions) can also help you make the most of this time.
5. Disregard unhelpful advice. After you’ve listened to what you’re critique group has to say, give yourself permission to pick and choose the editorial suggestions you will incorporate into your work. Trying to incorporate every piece of editorial feedback you receive usually results in a manuscript that feels busy or fragmented. It’s important to identify the comments that you feel are the most helpful and use those as your jumping off point. Often there will be one or two people whose editorial vision is most in line with what you are trying to achieve. Additionally, if more than one person points out the same problem, that’s a good clue you need to come up with a solution. When revising, it’s important to focus on the comments that you found the most helpful and let the rest fall away.
6. Critique revisions. Writing groups are a great opportunity to look at a work in various stages of revision. We can’t all get it right the first time, so it’s important to make time to review your work with the group at various stages. That way the writers in your group can let you know if the edits you made are on target or if you need to try again. Writing is a process and sometimes it takes a few tries before we get it right!
Writing groups are a fantastic tool and can be great fun as well. Best of luck with yours and be sure to drop by the blog next week for our next post! Also, you can catch up with me for updates on queries, more tips, and other cool stuff on Twitter @ShiraSHoffman