Why I Joined a Writers Critique Group and What I’ve Gotten Out of it.
The first time I read my work in front of a group it felt as if I were standing naked in the middle of Walmart parking lot shouting “Look at me!” It felt like my stomach was in my throat. How I managed to read the words swimming past my eyes with my hands shaking and my tongue stumbling over my teeth, I don’t know.
I don’t know what I said that night but I do remember the response of the other writers. They were encouraging and interested in my story. While I needed the validation at this early stage of my writing, a reason to believe in myself and keep going, it was the things I learned that brought me back. I learned that reading my words out loud to other people helped me hear the pacing and flow of the story. I was able to pick out mistakes and redundancies I’d overlooked reading it aloud to myself.
Even though I am blessed to have a supportive and encouraging husband, family and friends who are willing to help me with research, plotting and editing, they do not understand the writer’s struggle. Only another writer can truly empathize with what a writer goes through to bring a piece of work to maturity. Writing is a solitary life. We plot, we write and we edit alone. Being a part of a group of writers gives us a chance to share, encourage and learn.
I am a member of several writers’ groups each has furthered my writing career, but it is from my local groups that have received the one on one attention I needed to allow my writing to evolve. By having intimate critique groups, you can devote more attention to helping each other grow and develop and ready a piece for publishing. While the job of a critique group isn’t to edit, they can be the first line of offense by alerting the writer to character or scene inconsistencies, flaws in plotting or details, and comprehending the theme and arc of the story.
I have found in the larger group settings I get a broader idea of the writing life. How each of us juggles careers, families and social obligations with our writing careers. How we write and prepare for writing. What works for one but doesn’t for another. Places to find needed information and research sites. Genre expectations, rules and faux pas. How to write query letters or prepare an elevator pitch. The craft of writing, editing, plotting, character development and how to get your work published. I enjoy the larger groups for their diversity. The online classes I’ve taken through Romance Writers of America and the Heart of Carolina Romance Writers would have cost hundreds of dollars through other venues. The workshops I’ve attended through Romantic Times, Heart of Carolina and Pamlico Writers have honed my talent and given me the needed skills to continue my writing journey.
I recently acquired an agent after about fifty some odd rejections. The faith of my mentor and friend, Marni Graff led me to an agent who took the time to point out what didn’t work for the genre and for her. When I received a letter of interest from Holloway Literary Agents, I was in the middle of editing those problems and waited until I was able to send them a cleaner version of the story. It is that process writing and rewriting, learning and applying that has brought a good story through puberty and onto the publishing stage.
While writing might be a solitary endeavor, it is through sharing and learning from other writers that we expand our talent and focus our dream. I could not have come this far without the encouragement and lessons of my fellow writers.
by Sherri Hollister