I’d spent days polishing my first-person narrative story. “Looks great!” I told myself. Even so, I remember hesitating before I emailed that story to the six writers in my critique group. As a new Inspire member, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.
What if they don’t like my story? What if they rip it apart? What if they think I’m a bad writer?
“What if” was a chance I had to take if I wanted honest feedback. How else would I improve my craft? I also wanted to mingle and network with like-minded people who shared my love for the written word. Instead of listening to my “what ifs,” I sent my story to the critique group members. That was ten years ago and it’s made a huge difference in my craft and my ability to persevere as a writer.
Joining a critique group is a valuable resource for aspiring writers, but each group is only as valuable as its members. Here’s what I learned:
I need people, other than my loved ones, who will read my words from an objective point of view and provide me with honest feedback. Praise my strengths, show me where I miss the mark, and kindly suggest how I can improve my writing. Instead of telling me everything that needs work (that kind of feedback can be overwhelming) it’s helpful to point out “one big thing” that repeatedly jumps out that I can improve.
I need to hear words of encouragement. “You can do this.” “Look how far you’ve come.” “You nailed it!” But honestly, sometimes I just need prayer. Life happens in between submissions. It’s a blessing to know the folks in my critique group will pray for me when I’ve hit writer’s block or I’m running on empty.
I need fellow writers who can empathize with me so I know I’m not alone. “What? You too? I thought I was the only one who felt isolated (and sometimes incompetent) on this writing journey.” Fellow writers understand my passion for the written word, and the frustrations that are unique to writers.
However, belonging to a critique group isn’t all about my personal growth and success as a writer. I want to be a mutual blessing for the other members in my group. In fact, I’d rather think of my critique group as a “unified team” of like-minded Christian writers—helping each other improve and multiply our God-given talents. That means:
I want to devote time and genuine effort to read and critique other people’s submissions. I’m not there to line edit their work and circle punctuation errors. I read for clarity, flow, the reader’s takeaway, and the “one thing” that might be helpful. I also begin and end my verbal (or written) critique with praise on both ends—like a sandwich.
I want to consistently show up at our scheduled meetings regardless of whether I submit a manuscript. How frustrating to submit a story—expecting feedback—and only have two people show up to the meeting. When I’m unable to attend a critique meeting, I do my best to email my fellow writers with my feedback.
I want to lighten a discouraged writer’s heart, and applaud my fellow members’ publishing success. Inspire is no place for comparisons or envy. If we’re working as a team, then we all play a part in each individual’s success.
Bottom line: It’s not enough to get “plugged” into a critique group, it’s important to participate on a consistent basis. Critique groups should also be a safe place (not a critical one) where writers can receive and provide honest feedback about their manuscripts while encouraging each other to excel and persevere. If Inspire members aim for these goals, then we’ll see the value and experience the benefits of belonging to a critique group.
If you are a member of Inspire Christian Writers and are interested in joining a critique group, please fill out our Plug into a Critique Group form. If you would like to become a member of Inspire, you can do so here.