Have you participated in a critique group? If so, how did it work out for you? If not, why have you avoided joining one to this point? Is your critique group online or does it meet in person? What is the most useful thing you get out of your participation? How do you think a critique group could help you improve your writing?
I have always chosen to be part of a writing community where interests are shared, skills developed and creativity nurtured, finding this beneficial to my growth as a writer. Writers’ groups also provide a support network to develop and advance writing, and can be a vital resource when people begin to submit their work to competitions and publishers. The fellowship of like-minded people, who freely share their skills, knowledge and experience, through genuine critique, can strengthen self-confidence as a writer, depending on their expectation of the group and their understanding of its function and limitations.
Writers’ critique groups are not for everyone. There are those who feel they have reached their capacity for learning, who may not trust the opinions or motives of others, or who do not understand the objective nature of the critiquing process. Preciousness exists within us all and the writers’ ego can be the greatest obstacle we face in our quest for positive recognition in our chosen field. This may manifest as an emotional attachment to a particular piece of writing, resulting in the inability to give or receive objective reflection or feedback, or from an unwillingness to accept that a piece of writing may be less than perfect from the point of view of others in the group. Others perceive themselves to be victims, validating this with inappropriate remarks and pained expressions when their work is being critiqued, although they have no qualms about giving candid comment on the work of others in the group. We all experience brief episodes of preciousness at one time or another; it is only when this becomes chronic that it has the capacity to infect the group with different strains of the virus.
Giving and receiving feedback is a skill developed over time, through active participation and practice. In addition to constructive critique and positive comments, it is useful to offer comments about general reactions, first impressions, opinion about changes to drafts, agreement and disagreement with feedback from others and your reasons for this. This kind of feedback is useful because it gives the writer a sense of how the text has been received.
Additional to helping the writer identify weaker areas in a piece of writing, positive comment is equally important as it offers encouragement and builds confidence by showing the writer what worked and does not need revision, while helping others to identify and model good examples.
In my experience most (but not all) critique groups have a limited life, lasting longer where a stable membership has allowed relationships and trust to be formed and maintained over a period of time. Often it's the change to group dynamics that throws it out of kilter, when the established rules of critique have been misunderstood or misinterpreted by new members. When I find a group loses its purpose, I leave, not in high (or even low) dudgeon, but in the understanding I have nothing further to offer the group.
The most useful thing I get out of critiquing the work of others is how it opens my eyes to the flows in my own work, I become more self-analytical. In receiving critique, I like the process of viewing my work through other eyes and the suggestions (never directions) for potential change.
At the moment I'm involved with a closed online poetry critiquing group of small membership. I like this. I also have a poetry writing partner where we write to a prompt and meet to workshop our work. I find this process stimulating and a tool to maintaining consistency in creativity.