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What I’ve Learned from Critique Group

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This past year I think I’ve done a lot of growing as a writer. I’ve been writing more regularly; I’ve been actively participating in a constructive critique group. I’ve been posting on a website (this one) with the intention that other people besides me actually read what I have to say (also because of my critique group). I’ve stepped far out of my comfort zone, but it’s been a good experience for me. As most experiences go, I’m learning from it.

So what, exactly, have I learned then?

Well . . .

I’ve learned, first and foremost, that I know absolutely nothing about the writing “do’s and don’ts.” My writer friends are far more up-to-date on the ins and outs of the publishing world. But I’ve learned that I’m okay with lurking in the realm of blissful ignorance. Why? Because I’ve found that paying too much attention to what’s “right” and what’s “wrong” in the eyes of the mainstream publishing world is more of a hindrance than a help. Not to mention that it’s often discouraging. I have a style that works for me; I have a goal to write the best story I can, the best way that I can. So I’ve decided to stick to what I’m good at doing, and if I’m doing something terribly wrong, then I’ll rely on my critique group to correct me.

I’ve learned that it’s okay not to be a perfectionist – though admittedly, I’m still working on this one. I’m notorious for starting and restarting stories numerous times for simple problems, mostly because I feel like I iron out the kinks better that way. But it is nice that my critique group threatens to lock me in a padded room with no way of escaping should I try. Having their voices echoing in the back of my mind, encouraging me to finish what I’ve started, certainly gives me hope.

I’ve learned a lot about the ways other people write, and in doing so, I’ve also learned a bit more about how I write. Before meeting my group members, I didn’t have a lot of experience sharing work with people of different genres (or sharing my work at all), so it’s interesting for me to see the different creative processes at work, the different approaches to a story, the different writing styles, and then to compare them to my own. For instance, I’ve learned that my mental mapping and planning process, and rather linear thinking from point A to point B, is totally different from the way Robyn plunges into the heart of a story without even knowing what her story is. (This is still so amazing to me, Robyn, by the way.)

And to put a cherry on the top of my sentimental ice cream cone, I’ve learned that it’s great to have writer friends in my life. They are honest with me and their advice is constructive. I can talk about writing without watching as their eyes glaze over; I can bounce ideas off of them and actually get help with my plot. I can learn from them as they enter various stages of their writing careers, and in turn, I hope that I can give something back.

So there you have it: learning is an essential part of a writer’s process, even if the steps towards progress are subtle. If you don’t have a critique group yet, I suggest you get one. They are good for laughs, advice, and loads of creative shenanigans. Besides, if you’re having a rough day, a quick Skype call and a bottle of wine are sure to get the creative juices flowing. Not that I’d know anything about that . . . .

Do you have a writer’s group? If so, has it been a similarly good experience?

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