Kudos to My Critique Groups
Online and Face-to-Face Serve My Needs
35-Day Blogging Challenge – Day 13
My high school English teacher mentored me in creative writing when I was a junior.That was my pre-cursor to critique groups. It wasn’t until decades later that I had the opportunity to join a writing group that critiqued each other.
I joined my first group in 2000. I was living in the United Arab Emirates and some of teachers in the area colleges shared a passion for writing. I recall my heart beating faster as I shared my stories for the first time.
Members of my group came from Scotland, Canada, and the United States. We had widely diverse interests, expertise and approaches to writing. What we had in common was a desire to take what we had and improve.
I shudder when I recall the group prompts, like Cinderella. But I admired my colleagues’ wit and style. I’m still in contact with a few of those writers today.
The next group I joined was an online Christian critique group. Although I enjoyed the interaction, it didn’t impact my writing as much as I’d hoped. Each week one member took her turn to submit a piece of 1,000 words or less. A week later we received our critiques, usually on the last day. My turn came around once every six weeks, which did little to help me prepare my magazine submissions. But the experience still moved me forward in my writing journey. I also retained friendships from this group.
A few years later, desperate to move ahead in my writing career, I joined Pennwriters’, a professional writing group in Pennsylvania. Area 1 had a number of face-to-face critique groups so I could choose the times that suited me best.
I was ghostwriting a book but was having difficulty getting my group to connect with my central character. I revised the opening chapter for nearly three months before it was compelling enough to forge that connection and get them to want to read more. It wasn’t easy to admit that after being what I considered a serious writer, I knew so little about the craft of writing.
Those early meetings humbled me. I often despaired afterward. But I persevered and learned storytelling techniques from my fellow writers. After I resolved the opening chapter, I had a breakthrough and my colleagues started to invest themselves in this true story.
By the last chapter of the book, the leader, who was reading the words out loud, had to hand my chapter off to another member because he was too emotional to continue. That was when I really felt I had grown as a writer.
Then came my second book, Mobility Matters. Again, my Pennwriters’ critique partners were my first and second-line editors. They all had opinions that showed me a different side to my writing and helped me develop my skills. That book came out.
I took about a long break due some family issues but have now returned to the group.
Their feedback is insightful as I try to put together my third book. Cane Confessions. This book is lighter but it features my hard-to-explain scope of vision. I’m writing stories that take place in a variety of settings that feature different degrees of vision and it’s complex. How does one explain the problems with continually changing and inconsistent vision? Tunnel vision is often compared to looking through a straw but for me, that straw is not well-defined. It changes depending on many factors. We struggle together to pin down the experience somehow.
Being visually-impaired, transport to and from my critique group is an ongoing problem that I finally shared at a recent Lions Club meeting. They so kindly stepped up and promised to help me get to the meetings. I also have a Facebook group that prays for my transport issues. That’s how important getting there is to me.
I am honored to be part of such a knowledgeable, candid and caring critique group. I also think, as a group, we are growing. One critique partner recently commented, “Am I allowed to laugh? Should I? I want to. But is that polite?”
My goal is to change mindsets and bridge gaps between the sighted and visually-impaired or blind. I want to show readers that not only is it all right to laugh, it’s healing when it’s positive laughter. My hope is to find that common thread of humor to bring us together by creating understanding.
How much input should the critique group have?
The bottom line, as another critique member put it was, “You have to take feedback from all of us with a grain of salt. We all have different styles. And although as a group we try to give each other helpful advice, sometimes it’s helpful, and sometimes it’s best to leave it the way you had it.”
I am the one who must decide the core of my message.
What I find most helpful is learning to show what it’s like not to see – sometimes by using my other senses. I wouldn’t trade any of my critique group experience. After all, they keep me focused and help me move forward in my goals.
What is your experience with feedback? How accepting or defensive are you? How are you at giving it?