Some people swear by
them. Others don’t.
I’m one of the others. Prior
to this year, I had never belonged to a writing group. Neither did I seek out
a less formal network of critique partners or beta readers. I drafted my YA
debut, Survival Colony 9, without
input from others (unless you count my teenage daughter, who counts a lot to me,
but who wasn’t exactly an objective reader). Once I located an agent and she
located an editor, I got lots of input--multiple edits between the two of them.
But before that point: no critique.
When I tell people
this, they look at me in amazement. Not amazement like, “Wow, you’re such a
great writer!” Amazement like, “Wow, you’re such an idiot!” For those who swear
by writing groups, drafting a book without them seems like the height of folly.
But here’s the thing.
As with everything in writing, there are no hard and fast rules. There are
preferences and possibilities. Groups are great. But they’re not for everyone.
I’m becoming more aware
of this at present because, thanks to my local SCBWI chapter, I joined a
writing group last month. I wanted to give it a try. It consists of about
ten members including me, all of them producing children’s literature (though
most write MG and picture books, not YA). I’ve sat in on a couple meetings so
They’ve been good
meetings. I like my fellow members. One of them, against all odds, is the
younger sister of a close high school friend. They have great things to say
(and their own work is awesome). As the new guy, I’m trying to keep up, to learn
the others’ writing, to be as helpful as I can. I’m also hoping to get some
good feedback on my own stuff.
It’s too early to tell
if all this will come to pass. It’s too early to tell if I’ll stick with the
group after our current eight-session schedule runs its course.
But I will say this: so
far, it’s not really for me.
Maybe that’s just
because I’m new. Maybe it’s because so few other group
members write YA. Maybe it’s because the WIP I’m showing them is a total mess
at the moment, and yet, given my current focus on my upcoming debut, I’m not
feeling any great urgency to whip it into shape. Maybe it’s because this group
is a bit too big for me; receiving nine opinions all at once can be daunting. Maybe
it’s because the group leader has a dog, and I don’t like dogs.
Or maybe it’s that I’m
genuinely not a writing group guy.
As writers, we all have to find the
way that works for us. I’d strongly encourage any writer to try out a writing group (or two or three) to see if they suit you. I’d make every effort to go
into it with an open mind (something I hope I’m doing). I wouldn’t avoid it because
you’re shy, or embarrassed, or (worse) disdainful of other people’s opinions. I’d
commit to it for a specified period of time, and hope for the best. If it
But if it doesn’t, if
it turns out that due to any number of factors--personal style, time commitment, and so forth--you’re just not a writing group kind of person, I wouldn’t consider that a personal
failing or a professional liability. Instead, I’d tell you to find some other
method that works for you. A best friend. A writing class. A bunch of beta
readers. Your agent and editor. Your teenage daughter.
Critique is one of the
fundamentals of the writer's life. But how you go about obtaining it can be as unique as the writer's own voice.