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Why I’m wary of critique groups

As I have ventured out into the world as a writer–and now as a soon-to-be-published author–I have been astounded again and again by how many people in the world think of themselves as writers. I wish I could have a dollar for every time I hear a phrase like, “Yeah, I’ve thought about writing a book…” By now, I would be rich.

There is a vast leap between those who have a story in the back of their head, and those who actually commit their great work to the page. And of course, there is another vast leap between those aspiring writers and a published author.

In the effort to make that leap, many aspiring writers turn to critique groups and other such circles for feedback on their burgeoning masterpiece. There are critique groups of all sizes and all calibers. Many writers have found success this way. However, there are several things to be wary of when considering where to turn for feedback.

1. Ego

Unfortunately, ego is hard to avoid. Writers seem to be especially prickly. In several of the critique groups I have tried, I found people that relished in being harsh and incredibly critical because it made them feel more writerly. It is easy to be harsh. Even with your favorite, most successful writers, if you are out to find flaws and pick it apart, that is still what you will do. It is much more difficult to let go of your ego and give honest feedback.

2. Lack of experience

Depending on which kind of critique group you attend, you will have varying levels of writing experience. That will affect the value of your feedback. Be wary of feedback coming from inexperienced writers. (Including well-meaning friends.) While everyone may come up with a gold nugget, those occasions are rare, and first you have to pick through the slush to even find it. But no matter what the level of experience, you should never take feedback at 100%. No matter who is giving advice, it is still another person’s ideas, not your own. Always take it with a grain of salt, and carefully determine what the best direction is for your story.

3. White noise

In any critique group, the people you are working with are writers. That means they have their own ideas, their own perspective on how to write a story, their own voice, their own methods. Unfortunately, these have the tendency to distract from your own version of those traits. In a critique group, surrounded by other writers’ voices, it is difficult for you to maintain your own identity and your own story.

Readers over writers

Over time, I have found readers to be far more effective than writers in the effort to refine my writing. The craft of writing you can learn elsewhere–classes, books on craft, and by reading extensively, to name a few–but when it comes to my own work, I prefer to entrust my words to people who are not out to prove themselves, but who are focused entirely on making my work better. Choosing your readers carefully is critical to your success. Select people who will be honest, frank, and detailed. Some authors will tell you to avoid close family and friends. No matter who you choose, make sure that you are entrusting your writing to people who will truly be able to make it stronger.

In the long run, you have to learn your craft well enough to be your own critic as well. You will always know the ins and outs of your story better than anyone else. Ultimately, it is up to you to create your work to its utmost potential. It takes practice, learning, and experience that only you can gain for yourself. Your success is up to you!

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