How to Make the Most of Your Writing Group, and How it Can Ruin Your Story

10 Jul

Last week we talked about how to find a writing group. Now it’s time to look at how to make the most of that writing group and some issues to watch out for.

When You’re Critiquing

Be descriptive rather than prescriptive. Describe how you’re feeling in different scenes. Point out problems where you see them, but don’t try to solve them. Only the author knows where the story is going.

Try to view things in the context of the book, from the target audience’s point of view. Try to see where the writer is coming from. If they write young adult and you write adult, don’t tell them that their book isn’t long enough and that their voice is juvenile. Try to read the book like you were its target audience, keeping in mind that not every story is for every reader. Even if you hate it, it might still be good stuff.

Don’t forget to say good things as well as bad. If someone just told you everything they hated about your book, you’d feel like a rotten writer. And it’s important to know what’s working as well as what’s not.

When You’re Being Critiqued

If you’re in a group that meets in person, don’t interrupt anyone critiquing you. Don’t try to defend yourself, don’t try to explain. If they don’t understand things the way you thought they would, take that as an opportunity to try again. If you explain what you meant, you ruin the chance to see if you could write things in a different way that they would understand.

Be sure to write down everything. Even if you think they’re wrong, write it down. Look over things later and decide what advice you agree with.

What to Watch Out For

Writing groups are bad at judging pacing. Most likely, you’re in a writing group that will read your novel chunks at a time. They won’t be able to help you much where pacing is concerned, though they might try. Don’t put too much weight on their opinions.

Know that in writers groups it’s common for the members to pick up on a certain aspect of your writing and harp on it. Someone will comment that your prose is too flowery one week, and then another person will see that and comment on it the next week. The problem can seem bigger than it really is.

Some people will get caught up in the vision of your story and try to tell you where it should go. Listen to their ideas and write them down. Heck, they might even be good, but don’t incorporate anything into your story unless you’ve thought long and hard on it. If you added in every suggestion, you’d end up with a draft that went all over the place! So, smile and nod and write down everyone’s ideas, but then maybe ignore them.

Anyone else had problems like these in their critique group? How did you get around them?

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10 Responses to “How to Make the Most of Your Writing Group, and How it Can Ruin Your Story”

  1. Diana Springer July 10, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    Great post! I think you hit the nail on the head about knowing the intended audience of the book before commenting. Everyone in the group will have something to contribute. The key is being able to take only what you can use in your novel.

    • Jessica Flory July 10, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

      It’s true! That really is the tricky part. It’s hard to know what’s good advice and what’s not. If everyone in my writing group has the same opinion about something, that’s usually a pretty good indicator that they’re right.

  2. bobby kool July 11, 2013 at 9:29 pm #

    Your article really inspired me, thanks, I always learn a lot from your posts!

  3. Damien July 13, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

    This post is full of very good, solid advice. I think you do a fantastic job of leading those who are critiquing away from attacking the piece. This is valuable in part because sometimes people think that to be helpful or poignant, they must be mean and “brutally” honest. You do a good job of showing that that is not necessary.

    I’d stress to those being critiqued to NOT be defensive. Even if you think the group has totally missed the point of your work and you’re getting ripped apart, try to remember that they are doing so because they respect you as a writer and if you are defensive, they will withhold possibly valuable future advice and critique. Good post.

    • Jessica Flory July 13, 2013 at 10:10 pm #

      Thanks, Damien, and you’ve nailed it. This is truly one of the challenging aspects of being a writer, because getting defensive is our first reaction when we feel like we’re being ripped apart. Authors would do well to keep your advice in mind.

  4. TERRIfic Words July 16, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

    You made a great point about people who don’t understand your writing during the critique. While I never felt the need to get defensive or feel offended, you often feel the need to explain. But I never realized that explaining takes away the change to rework and see if they get it the next time. Excellent, excellent point!

    • Jessica Flory July 16, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

      Thank you! When I learned that piece of advice it really hit me, too. It makes so much more sense to see if you can change things around and find out if that works.

  5. quirkywritingcorner July 18, 2013 at 3:56 am #

    I’ve never worked with a critique group. At least now I have a heads up on what to expect and do.

    • Jessica Flory July 18, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

      I hope this has helped! I highly recommend joining a critique group.

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