Writers love writing; we wouldn’t be in this business if we didn’t. What writers don’t love (for the most part) is sharing their writing.
Sharing your writing is terrifying. There’s no bones about it. Your words could get torn apart, or worse–stolen. It’s baring your precious darling to the world and praying it doesn’t get hurt. This is why authors need great editors to insure your book is as perfect as it can be.
This is also why authors need writing groups.
Writing groups can be many different things for authors. They can be a safe place to get your butt in the chair and just write (these are called write-ins). They can be sounding boards where you talk business and marketing and the craft of writing (Writers Coffeehouse on Facebook). And they can also be a place where you can find out for certain if your book will make it or break it in The Real World.
The last is the hardest by far to find, but it can also be the most rewarding. If you’re ready to put your work on the chopping block, you can begin the work of making the perfect critique group in seven easy steps.
- Find People You Trust
You don’t have to be close friends with your group members; it’s better if you’re not. But you need to be bale to trust their opinions on your work to be honest and backed up by something other than personal taste. For example, if someone is saying the sexual assault scene doesn’t seem very accurate, they have to tell you why and back it with reasoning and research.
- Find People Outside Your Genre
Your first instinct may be to invite all of the people you already chat with in your genre–don’t do it. People outside your field will be more effectively critical of your work. They catch things that you wouldn’t, and you’ll do the same for them/ If it all possible, find people who each writer very different genres and styles. You may be surprised how each person in your group will catch something very different. The result: well-rounded critiques for all! Like the Oprah of editing–all for free.
- Have A Set Deadline
The best critiques come over time, not on the spot. As you’re creating the schedule for your group, be sure to also have a set deadline for sending in your work atg least one week before the group meets. This gives everyone time to review each other’s work fairly.
- Have A Limit
No one wants to be that asshole who submits a 15k story, when everyone else’s subs are only 3k. Have a cap for how many words and stick to it. Remember that if you want your group to to work on longer pieces, you’ll need to set your submission deadline accordingly. 10k subs should have at best two weeks to go over them before your group meets.
- Be Kind
It’s easy to be critical, but don’t forget to point out the good too! If something made you laugh, made you smile, made you horrified, say it! Kind words help authors remember that their story isn’t all bad–even if it does need a lot of work. Offer suggestions as well, as these can help to bounce ideas around and move their story in the right direction.
- Food Is The Best Break
Your group might not always see eye to eye, but even if you disagree on an opening, you can always agree on where to order take out. Planning your meeting around a meal time gives everyone something to look forward to, even if their nervous about well their book was received.
- Don’t Forget The Doorknob Questions
Always ask whoever’s on the chopping block if they have any questions before you move along. This way, the author always has a moment to explain their choices or even just get everyone’s thoughts on an aspect of the story that went unaddressed. This one simple question insures everyone gets the feedback they need to make a better book.
A writing group can be an invaluable resource to authors at all stages of their careers, provided you stay on task and put your own hard work into it. Stay on task, take careful notes, and bring dessert for back up.