An Introvert’s Guide to Starting a Critique Group


Have you ever felt lonely as a writer?

I am an introvert. Working in an office was draining for me, but when I started working from home as a writer, I realised that I missed people.


Humans come in all types, introvert/extrovert, straight talking/descriptive, feeler/thinker. But one thing is common for all writers who work at home — it’s a solitary kind of work.


Unless you’re lucky enough to work for a marketing firm or in-house for a newspaper/magazine, writing is something you do at home, alone. Particularly if you’re writing fiction.


It was 2010 when I got made redundant, and I thought to myself… ‘I know, I’ll take some time out from employment and write my first novel.’


Eleven years later, I’m still here trying to do it. It turned out it wasn’t so easy to churn out a book as I’d thought.


No, my friends. Writing is hard. 


And if you’re here reading this, you know what I’m talking about.


Writing is a craft. It’s a process. And you don’t get good overnight. 


I worked at my desk for days on end, struck dumb by the cursed writer’s block demon, who would sit there mocking me silently with glowing eyes and a wicked grin.  ‘You’re not even good enough, so why bother?’



Because I’m a plucky heroine in my own story. I stuck my tongue out at him and decided to start a quest to remove the curse.


Enter various courses and an introduction to NaNoWriMo.


Back in the day, before the Pandemic, Devon Wrimos used to arrange ‘Kick Off’ and ‘TFIO’ (Thank F*** It’s Over) parties. 


It was the first time I’d met other writers. And on those fateful nights in the November of my first NaNoWriMo — in the wake of my colossal failure to meet those mountainous 50,000 words — I realised something.


I realised I needed the support of other people who knew what it was like to be a writer. 


The struggles, the loneliness, the procrastination - all of it.


So I stepped out of my comfort zone and decided to invite other Wrimos to form a group with me.


It was the best thing I ever did.


Reasons Why You Might Want to Start Your Own Critique Group


IMPROVE YOUR WRITING


Sharing your work has to be one of the fastest ways to improve the quality of your writing. 


Other people have different experiences, tastes, accrued wisdom, knowledge, and opinions to offer — things that you might not have considered before, or things you missed by being too close to the work. 


It comes in many facets. The eyes of other people on your work can help you: learn grammar rules that you didn’t realise you didn’t know; remove junk words that clutter your prose, thereby helping you to develop your voice in a way that uniquely defines your burgeoning style; it can give you insight into how different people interpret your words   whether it was what you intended or not.



Another facet is that you will see how other people write. You will learn to recognise what is good about other people’s writing and have opinions on how they could improve their writing. At the same time, these assessments of other people’s work will inform your own abilities.


MORAL SUPPORT


This comes in many forms, from simply being around people who understand the struggles of being a writer, to having people to talk to about them. Sharing ideas of how to overcome blocks, fears and uncertainties can be invaluable. 


NETWORKING


The friends you make in a critique group will come to know your story inside and out. They will be amongst your biggest supporters when you finally get your book finished and published. As you will be there for them, too. Each member will have something to contribute in the way of social connections and industry knowledge. 


Where to Meet People


NaNoWriMo 


I met my first writing friends during TFIO parties following NaNoWriMo. Although face to face meetings are not happening, there is still a very active community engaging in the Forums. There are lots of budding writers itching to get feedback who would jump at the chance to join your critique group.


Camp NaNo has just begun for April 2021. For local writers in the southwest UK, there’s a Devon Group that is very active and they have a Discord Server for writing sprints.


MEETUPS


The meet ups website is a great place to meet people in your local area. If meeting in person once the pandemic is over is important to you, then this is a great option.


DISCORD


Discord is an online platform of servers that enables people to chat and connect with people of similar interests around the world. I’ve joined a few of these, and the one of the best servers for writers is The Writers’ Factory. It has lots of chatrooms on a variety of areas of writing including: character discussions, marketing help, feedback, and even sprint rooms complete with a bot to help you increase your word count.


COMMUNITY BOARDS


Advertise in your local coffee shop or post office. You’ll be surprised who might get in touch with you!


How to Run Your Group


Once you have a few interested parties, it’s time to set up some rules and structure. With Social Distancing limitations, everything will have to be conducted online. But the following things work for both online and face-to-face groups:


You’ll want to discuss:

  • How often you will submit electronic documents to each other
  • Deadlines for returning feedback
  • Frequency of meetings to discuss plot and/or clarify feedback 
  • How much time to allot each member to talk in the meeting

Depending on the level of commitment from your members, I recommend the following:

 

  • Fortnightly submissions
  • A weekend to read and return feedback
  • A few days to read and contemplate 
  • An online or face-to-face meeting to discuss thoughts and clarify points
  • A week to write the next instalment

I also recommend sticking to whole chapters with a word count of 3000-5000 words depending on the genres of your members. Multiple chapters can be submitted if they are whole and still within the word count limit.


The reason I say this is because whole chapters give your fellow critiquers an idea of the story arc,  and they can advise you not just on your writing style, but on other important things such as structure, pace, and plot.


It doesn’t matter if your prose is edited to sublime perfection. If you have no story readers, will not be interested in your book.


Another sticking point that can arise from writing groups is how much feedback can really hurt you and others.



Etiquette


To be effective, you and your group should come to an understanding of what is good etiquette. Acknowledging and accepting that with all the best will in the world, sometimes critique will be hurtful because of its very nature.


Even when you know the other person meant it to be helpful, it can still feel like they’ve plunged a dagger right into your heart and twisted it so that your valves explode under its force. 


You may have received harsh criticism in the past. You know the kind: where the blade breaks off inside your heart and the pain stays with you, preventing you from ever having the courage to share your work with anyone again because even the slightest negative remark can cause that broken shard to nick the unhealed scars you carry.


Being in this sort of critique group can be very challenging. But the best part of sharing in this way is that you learn from critiquing the work of others as much as from the feedback you receive on your work.


The viewpoints of your fellow critiquers will be eye-opening. For example, the things that they notice in your work, where they place importance whether on phrasing and style, or plot, or character, or theme. People’s alternative viewpoints will be fascinating to observe.


Although it is excruciating, working with fellow writers is an expansive experience. If you can be open to receiving feedback and applying it, you’ll be surprised by fast your writing skills can grow.


Be Brave and Start Your Group Today


Every group is slightly different, but having run two different Critique Groups, taught creative writing in small groups and been a member of three other writing groups I’ve come to the following conclusion. 


Receiving feedback is hard. It’s fundamentally, gut-wrenchingly upsetting, and, with all the will in the world, there will likely be conflicts that arise in any group. 


But I promise you, if you are dedicated and committed to writing and publishing, it will be worth it. Whether you publish or not, you’ll make friends and learn a lot about yourself in the process.


Thanks for reading this post all the way to the end. I’m doing Camp NaNo this April, and I’ll be around in the Discord. If you want to connect with me on NaNoWriMo or on Discord, my handle is Ocean_Lily. 


Best of luck, and please share your stories of being in a critique group with us in the comments.


_____________________________________________


Jessica Triana de Ford is Exeter Writers Blog Manager, and co-ordinates content as well as edits submissions. She loves being part of a supportive writing group and being in a position to help support other creatives find the courage to express their ideas. You can find out more and connect with Jessica on
LinkedIn and Twitter

Comments

Su Bristow said…
All good points. And here's one more: if you hope to get published, one of the skills you'll need to acquire is the ability to take criticism. The critique group can be a (relatively) safe nursery in which to learn that skill. Once your work is published, the whole world can see it and, while most people are kind and polite, some won't hold back. It doesn't stop hurting when you get negative reviews, but you have to learn how to move past it and not let it shut you down. Keep writing...
Margaret James said…
Some excellent advice there, Jess. As writers, we're all on a rocky road! So we must always encourage each other, and that's what Exeter Writers does. :-)
Jessica Triana said…
Yes I whole heartedly agree. Not everyone will like what you write even the likes of Stephen King has his critics! All the arts are subjective and you can't please everyone and if you try you'll end up pleasing no-one! The main thing is to keep writing anyway, just as you say. :-)

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