She glanced down at her paper and scribbled a note. My hands faltered and I had to quickly refocus my thoughts so I could keep up with what the speaker was saying. Against my better judgement, I flicked my eyes again in her direction and found to my dismay her pencil moving silently across her paper. This can’t be good. I steel myself for what’s to come afterwards and press through the remaining minutes of my time. Not soon enough my time comes to an end and I relinquish my post to another scared, trembling student. Now I just need to sweat it out for the next forty-five minutes and through three more students before she’ll give me her critique. As much as I try to sit still, my foot is bouncing with anticipation and my heart is beating out of my chest.
I went to school for American Sign Language interpreting prior to my writing career. The whole foundation of interpreting is built upon standing up in front of a group of people and throwing your best attempt out there. When you’re in training, that attempt gets critiqued and in my case, those doing the critiquing were pretty darn ruthless. For every five negative comments, they might throw out one or two positive comments. It wasn’t fun. Truthfully, it was extremely discouraging, however it taught me one thing–I can always improve. There is always an opportunity to excel in some way, shape or form. The same is applicable for writing.
The best way to improve your writing (besides practicing and actually writing) is to have a group of people with whom you can share your writing and know that they will give you honest, truthful feedback. I’m not saying to send your writing to just anyone so here’s a few guidelines you can use when trying to set up a critique group for your writing.
- You must trust the members. When I’m in a critique group I want to be able to trust the members. Knowing that they won’t steal my idea is huge as well as that their motives are to improve their writing, not to cut another person’s writing down.
- Critique on the same topic. If I’m asking you to critique my fiction novel and you are asking me to critique your non-fiction dissertation on the life cycle of frogs, I think there could be a problem. Try to swap critiques in the same genre, that way you have a familiar knowledge base. I don’t want to put my fiction “baby” on the table of an “I read only non-fiction” kind of person. It’s the same way that a lover of historical fiction probably won’t have nice things to say about my new young adult fantasy novel about dragons.
- Focus on the positive. What is the writer doing well? For every one negative thing, you need to have at least three positive things happening. I’m not telling you to lie, but I am saying that you need to focus on the positive.
Last month I took part in a Writing Circle with Bigger Picture Blogs. The prompt for this month’s circle was “Embrace” and we were writing a fictional excerpt of less than 1000 words. We met via a group skype chat for about 1.5 hours. It.Was.Amazing. After speaking with the ladies at Bigger Picture Blogs, I’d like to re-create this for our Better-Writer community and of course add some of our own unique flair to the idea. First, however, I need to know who is interested?
Leave a comment below telling me if you’re interested in something like this and what you’d like to write for critique. Have you ever been in a critique group before? What was your experience like? Would you do it again?