A couple of months ago, I joined a writer’s critique group through my county’s office of education. It was soooo much fun, but more importantly, it massively improved my writing. I promised to write you guys a post about why critique groups are important- and here it is, several months late!
A lot of people think that writing is a solitary act- you write the manuscript (by yourself), you edit it (by yourself), and then you send it to a publisher and the publish it!
That’s not how it works.
You will need lots and lots of people to look at your writing before it’s polished. I didn’t realize this for a long time. I wrote a story, and then I said “Here! It’s perfect!”
What I didn’t realize is that when you edit your own writing, you’re going to miss some things. It’s basically a given. I don’t care how good of a writer you are, you are going to make mistakes and you are going to miss them because you don’t realize.
During my critique group, people pointed out to me something that I had never realized- I used the word “but” in pretty much every other sentence. My voice tends to consist of very splintered, fractured sentences. Sometimes it helps, especially when I’m going for a dark, tense mood. But the problem is that it leads to me using the words “and” and “but” a lot!
When I started the group, I had thought that my writing was polished. But it wasn’t! People pointed out a whole slew of problems that I hadn’t even noticed (they did it nicely, of course).
Another thing- critique partners will open you up to new views, new ideas, which is incredibly important to writers. You need to know, to be aware, if you want to properly send the message that you want to send.
And because of cultural biases, you’re likely to not even see things that are totally illogical. I used to write fantasy stories about worlds consisting completely of straight white people with a single religion. It didn’t make sense, looking back. Look at our own world. There’s so much variety. Everyone is so different, and it’s beautiful. So why would a fantasy world be any different?
I didn’t realize that on my own. I needed other people to point it out to me (nicely).
I’m not saying to make your writing exactly like other people’s. I’m saying to think about what your critique partners have to say, really think about it. Take it or leave it. It’s up to you. But it really is so, so important to at least listen to what other people have to say. They have different perspectives than you, and sometimes, a different angle is all you need to see that problem you had known was lurking in the corner but just couldn’t see from where you were standing. If that makes any sense.
And don’t try to argue by saying “but I don’t know where to find critique partners!” because it’s really not that hard- and coming from my socially awkward self, that’s saying something. Try at your school and local library first, since there might already be an established group. If there isn’t one, or if you don’t want to critique with a bunch of strangers, then try finding some writerly friends and offer to look at one of their writings if they’ll look at one of yours! You don’t need an official group or anything. Just find people you trust who will look at your writing and give you an honest opinion of what they think.
It’ll help a lot. I promise.