As new writers, we all experience the fear of rejection. Not from publishers and editors, but from friends and family. Nothing strikes more fear into the heart of an aspiring writer than the idea of a loved one handing you back your manuscript with a timid grin, saying, “It’s, uh, good.”
Somehow it’s easier to read an email from an editor telling you your story is “Good, but not for us” than hearing face-to-face from a friend how you could improve it.
And this is bad.
If you don’t warm up to the idea of receiving feedback from a constructive third party, the only feedback you’ll continue to receive will be in the form of letters wishing you good luck and telling you it’s not for them.
Getting an honest critique of your work is one of the most important things you can do as a writer if you hope to improve.
I recently attended a writing conference and the one thing every author agreed on was that if you’re going to make it in the world of writing fiction, you’ve got to get a good critique group. Now, that statement might make you cringe, and I can relate. I hate letting anyone see a work in progress just as much as the next guy. In fact, I’m usually so embarrassed by a first draft of a story that won’t even let my wife read it.
But there comes a time where we all have to admit that our writing isn’t perfect and we need to be willing to allow people we trust to show us where the imperfections lie.
And if you think about it, it is almost silly to be afraid of showing someone a work in progress. Even if the reader isn’t a writer, they have a basic understanding of the concept of building something. They’ll understand that your work in progress is that just. And unfinished product that they can look over and make sure the pieces are falling into place.
To put it another way: My three-year-old likes building robots out of Legos. How would I feel if he made me leave the room until he finished so that I wouldn’t see his “work in progress”?
Choosing the right critique group
So now that you’ve decided to join a critique group, you need to make sure that you have the right type of people in it.
The most important thing to remember is that the reason you have a group of people reading your unpublished fiction is to make it better. This means you need to find people that won’t be afraid to criticize your work. It’s great if you know people that like your fiction enough to think it’s perfect, but right now you need a critique group; not a fan club.
The reason you need someone who is not afraid to criticize your work is because you need another set of eyes looking it over. You may not believe it, but there will be things in your story that you’ve overlooked. Sometimes it may even be a major plot-hole, but other times it might just be a small inconsistency. Still, even the smallest inconsistency in a story could make the difference between a pro-paying acceptance and a token-paying one.
It is, however, more complicated than that. You don’t just want someone reading over your story telling you what they don’t like. You need them to tell you what they don’t like, why they don’t like it, and how to fix it. Otherwise it’s not constructive criticism; it’s just someone bitching about your work.
With that said, you also don’t want a reader who is only going to point out the bad stuff. You need to know what works for the story as well what doesn’t. Otherwise you just might end up cutting out the good stuff. I had rejection letter say “Nice ending, but it started out too slow.” That tiny bit of constructive criticism told me that the beginning needs a lot more work than the end. A critical reader should be able to you that as well. If you have a scene with stunning dialog, that’s just as import to know as if you have a scene with phony, flat dialogue.
Another Option: Online Critique Groups
So now let’s talk about the alternative to a local critique group: Online critique groups. The biggest reason I haven’t joined a local writing group is that with my kids and commute, I just don’t have time to give adequate feedback other writers. It wouldn’t be fair to ask them to properly critique my work if I couldn’t give them 100% when critiquing theirs.
My only option at this point in my life is to use an online critique group.
There are several online groups out there just a Google click away, and there are also tons of message boards or social media groups you can use as well.
The site I chose was Scribophile. It’s got a great setup and uses a currency system is called “Karma points.” You earn Karma points a variety of ways, including critiquing other members’ works. When you’ve earned enough Karma points, you can post your own short story, novel excerpt, query letter, poems, or non-fiction essays for critique. The site also has a blog and members-only forum. It’s a free site with an optional premium membership.
They have incentives for critiquing newly posted stories, so the first time I posted a story there, I had four detailed critiques within 24 hours. For me, having four strangers look over a story was more helpful than I ever thought possible. Since you usually don’t personally know the reader writing the critique, there is no agenda in place. You’re not getting a total hater or a “fan club” response, and everyone on the site is there to help and learn from each other.
And just for the record, I’m not trying to be a commercial for Scribophile; I’m sure the other sites out there are just as good. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Critters Writers Workshop, for example. Either way, if you’re looking for a way to get good, quick feedback on a story and either don’t have anyone to ask, or don’t necessarily want to entrust your writing future with your friends and family, then online critique groups are definitely worth a try.
And if you’re on Scribophile, stop by and say hello: My Scribophile Profile
What’s your experience with local or online critique groups? Have you found a great local group of writers to work with?