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Critique Groups Can Boost Your Bottom Line
by Julie Williams

John Donne said, "No man is an island," and this is particularly true of writers. Established writers know the benefits of trusting certain people to read through their work before it is submitted. Newcomers to writing (whether fiction or non-fiction) if you follow these guidelines you, too, will earn money from your craft sooner rather than later.

  1. In order to join a critique group you need to find other writers. Check out the libraries, bookstores, or run an ad in your local paper. Finding a group that fits you can take time. Some questions you need to ask yourself are do they work as hard as you at writing? Do they take is as seriously as you, or do they just want to talk about American Idol or what little Jerrod did with his salad fork last night? Will you choose a group that only writes the same genre as you (Children's stories, for example)? The number of participants is also critical - too many and you have a confusing array of opinions to sift through. But the members have to understand what constructive criticism really is, and their skill levels need to match or be superior to yours in order for you to improve. If you're lucky enough to find several groups, try them all and see which one/s suit you best.
  2. Once you have established or joined a group, and you're ready to leave your island (computer desk/kitchen table/laptop) let's go over some logistical considerations. Where, when, and how often will you meet? Will everyone read their work aloud? Decide on the number of pages you will each critique. Ten pages double-spaced are probably as much as you can expect the members to manage, and remember, you have to critique their pages. It's helpful to send or give out your work ahead of each meeting. And will everyone agree to critique all of a person's output or just the problem spots? (Are you writing a novel/short stories/articles?) Critiques via email are useful when you can't get together, but one advantage of face-to-face meetings is the ability to explain why you wrote what you did, or ask for clarification for something you're not sure of in a fellow member's piece.
  3. The benefits I reap from belonging to my critique groups are as follows:
    • Writing is solitary and the need for contact with other writers reinforces my passion and identity as a writer.
    • We spark each other's creativity.
    • My friends' help with editing and grammar is invaluable (I'm English and we say many things differently, but I write for the American public).
    • Deadlines get me moving.
    • My partners tell me when I've strayed from my original intent, or if my characters deviate from their normal patterns of behavior.
    • They will also give suggestions on livening up my work if it becomes dull.
    • Best of all, they'll tell me when I have something wonderful!

To sum up, in order to get the most out of your critique group/s, listen carefully to the reasoning behind their words. But remember, it's your work, and you are ultimately responsible for the end result.

I get great feedback from the members of my two groups. Since they began critiquing my work less than two years ago, I've earned income from eighteen short stories. Who knows, after you sell your work you might be able, one day, to buy your own island!

© Copyright 2007, Julie Williams

Julie Williams

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