I joined my first critique group a number of years ago as a fairly new writer. There were six or seven other writers, all much more seasoned than I was, and several who were published. I was scared to death to read my work out loud to the group. But by the 2nd or 3rd meeting, they had bolstered my confidence and convinced me I might actually have some talent. I stayed with The Write Bunch for three years, and learned some invaluable things about writing. I'm still in touch with the woman who led the group. She acted like a proud mama when I gave her copies of my published novels three years ago.
I wasn't in another critique group for 18 years or so. That's when I joined a group headed by my agent, who lived just an hour away from me. Her group was composed of writers who were very good at their craft, and I very much enjoyed the time I was with them. I was always reminded of the Scripture, "iron sharpens iron" whenever we met.
Here are a couple of important suggestions to help you manage a successful critique group. When you start a group, be sure to establish the rules and stick to them. Whether you submit your work to each other in advance, or read aloud at each meeting, it's important that everyone participates. It's equally important that everyone has equal opportunity to be critiqued. That means it's important to keep the group to a manageable number. I recommend no more than eight, and even that number would necessitate a lengthy meeting. So make sure the membership is commensurate to the time you are able to allot to the meeting.
While I benefitted from the groups I participated in, what has been most beneficial to me as a writer has been having Katy Popa as a critique partner for the past seven years. We met at a writers' conference and were drawn to each other initially by our work. Our writing styles were similar, as was our level of ability. That united us professionally, but getting to know each other and discovering the similarities we share on many levels united us personally. I haven't written anything these past seven years that Katy hasn't critiqued, and vice versa. We are critique partners in the truest sense, but more than that, we are close, close friends. And it all came about because of our writing.
The same type of relationship -- professional and personal -- is now enjoyed by the six of us who co-write this blog. We're separated by states, and even countries, but that hasn't hampered the deep friendship that's developed amongst us. We're all available as critique partners to one another; and we have the privilege of being "first readers" of each other's work. Believe me, that is a thrill. We're also prayer partners, and we continually encourage one another.
You may find yourself without a writing friend who lives next door, down the street, or across town, but that should never keep you from finding a kindred soul who shares your passion, who writes at a similar level as you, and who desires the kind of relationship I've described in this post. If you are able to, attend a writers' conference, if for no other reason than to put yourself in a position to find a critique partner/writing friend. It's worth the price of the conference. If you're unable to do that, or don't want to wait for the next conference, reach out to someone in the Novel Matters writing community, or another writing blog you may follow. We've seen relationships build between our followers and it delights us to no end. Take a risk and take advantage of this community. It's a win/win for everyone.
BK, I understand your reticence to join or create an online critique group, but a critique partner is a bit different. A one-on-one partnership is harder to flake on, and easier to maintain.
Megan, I hear your frustration. I truly hope you find a writing partner within this community like I found with Katy.
Please share your experiences with either a critique group or a critique partner. How have you benefitted? What has worked, and what hasn't?