Join a critique group, they said.
“You’ll get so much better.”
“It’s so helpful.”
“Having a writing community is a must.”
Critique groups, in all actuality, are not for the faint of heart. Oh, they’re helpful and necessary and pretty much everything you’ve ever heard about them is true. But if you don’t know how to survive critique, they won't do you much good.
After recently realizing that my own critique group is coming up on our four-year “anniversary”, I tried to think of what could possibly have kept us going for so long. I mean, four years. We’re friendly, but there are some weeks that simply feel like my soul has been ripped from my body and feasted on in a scene not unlike the death of Aslan*.
The art of surviving a critique group is a tricky one. For me, it was a matter of realizing I was not God’s gift to the writing world. It took time to get a thicker skin and to learn how to edit, not rewrite, other people’s stories.
Here’s my (personal) guide to how to survive criticism from a critique group:
Realize that everyone has different critiquing strengths.
Some people are gifted copyeditors. Others can spot a plot hole a mile away. Figure out who is good at what and who knows your target audience the best, and listen to those people when it applies to your scene.
Figure out how to parse through comments.
Some comments are better than others, and others may only partially apply to your work. Just because one comment says you should change something doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Think of how it will change the entire story – one conversation could completely derail the rest of the book, but no one but you may know this. Once you know where you’re headed, it’s much easier to get directions from others.
Learn to edit yourself.
As a French teacher, I often noticed that hundreds – nay, gazillions – of mistakes could have been avoided had students taken my advice to [A] edit themselves and [B] read things aloud. French that doesn’t sound pretty is almost never correct. The same can go for English. Read it aloud, and if it doesn’t sound right, change it. You can catch common problems before your critique group even looks at the pages. Do you overuse certain words or tend to forget about dialogue tags? Find out what your downfalls tend to be, and from there you can fix these issues before they plague you during the actual meeting.
If you don’t put the same level of effort into reading and critiquing that your group does, you miss out. The point is not to rejoice when you find “mistakes” in someone else’s writing. Just…no. No. Instead, focus on helping and encouraging. Don’t forget that everyone is in the same boat. You are all trying to attain something awesome. Besides, the more you read other people's pages, the more you’ll understand what works and what fails in your own writing.