I’m certain that virtually every published novelist has benefited from getting feedback from a critique group. And I’m sure every published novelist has had the experience of pulling out her hair and running down the street screaming after at least one critique group meeting. That’s the nature of the beast when it comes to critique groups: you probably can’t live with them, but you also can’t live without them.
No matter how experienced of a writer you are, it’s rough to hear what’s wrong with your novel, no matter how constructive the feedback. But the best way I’ve found to take constructive criticism is to think of it as a gift, something that will help me look at the big picture of my novel and will inspire me. The ideal is when this results in an epiphany of how to fix things so that the novel will be the best it can be. And a good critique group can help you accomplish this.
However, finding a good critique group can be tricky. Every writer probably has her wish list for a dream critique group. Here’s mine:
~ An in-person group that meets at a time and place convenient for all members.
~ Members who are equal to me in writing skill or even better so I can learn from them.
~ All members working on novels (though memoirs can work too).
~ Every member willing to read 20-25 pages at a time (and even more in some cases).
~ Verbal feedback given during the meeting, and also written feedback to take home.
~ Emphasis on the “big picture” as opposed to line editing.
~ The bulk of the meeting spent on critiquing as opposed to socializing or group therapy.
~ Members who are committed to the group and also willing to discuss general writing and craft issues.
How do you find a critique group? That can be tricky too. Many people find groups through the local chapters of writing organizations such as Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, etc. You can also find people through writers conferences, colleges where creative writing is taught and through MeetUps.
Online critique groups are great for those in more challenging geographic areas, though one of the benefits of face-to-face groups is the ability to break away from the isolation that plagues many writers. But there are some who feel that it’s a bit easier to take criticism via the online world instead of in-person. What wouldn’t be appropriate in a face-to-face group (e.g., yelling Shut up, shut up, shut up—you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about) is quite acceptable when sitting in front of the computer in the privacy of your own home. She Writes and Ladies Who Critique are just a couple of groups that provide services to match critique partners online.
Wendy Nelson Tokunaga is the author of the novels, " and (both published by St. Martin's Press), and the e-book novels, and and e-book short story, She's also the author of the nonfiction e-book, Wendy holds an MFA in Creative Writing from University of San Francisco and teaches for Stanford University's Online Writer's Studio Novel Certificate Program. She also does private manuscript consulting for novels and memoirs. Follow her on Twitter at @Wendy_Tokunaga, friend her on and visit her website at: www.WendyTokunaga.com