A Writer’s Journey, and the Value of Critique Groups

In my gratitude list, I mentioned the support of colleagues and mentors as something I am grateful for.  When I decided to spend my time writing, finding fellow writers was a year-long journey.

Frustrated Woman at Computer With Stack of PaperFor the first several months, I just wrote. And read books about writing. I learned a lot about novel techniques, and I realized how little I knew.

After six months, I had a few short stories and a rough draft of a novel. A VERY ROUGH draft of a novel. I spent a week congratulating myself, then turned around and started revising the draft.

My instincts through these months were good. I knew I had to get something down on the page, no matter how bad. And I knew once that first draft was done, I had to edit it.

But then my instincts failed me. I didn’t really know how to revise a book. I didn’t know what I was revising toward.

Thankfully, I stumbled upon a writing class offered by the Kansas City Writers Group. While the class itself wasn’t all that helpful (other than forcing me to turn in a new piece of work each week), it put me in touch with a wonderful group of writers that has proven its worth over and over.

I am now in three writing groups. There’s a lot of overlap in members, but for me they serve three different purposes.

The Kansas City Writers Group itself is a large group of talented writers in the Kansas City area. When this group meets, I am exposed to poets, essayists, memoirists, novelists, and just plain good story tellers.

None of us gets our work critiqued very often, because there are too many of us to read every week. For me, the value of this group is in hearing the diversity of our voices – both as writers and as critiquers. I never come away from a KCWG meeting without listening to at least one lovely chapter or poem very different from what I write, and without hearing at least one idea for improving a piece of writing that never occurred to me.

I am also in a smaller critique group, where we all have the opportunity to read something every time we meet.  The value of this group is that I am forced to have something to read for each meeting. Plus, we each read our own work out loud, and when I stumble over a sentence or paragraph, I know I have work to do. Because we know each other’s work well, we are often able to offer good suggestions on re-phrasing or otherwise improving our work.

As an example, I haven’t been happy with the beginning of that first novel I wrote in my early days. So I brought the first chapter to my small critique group. As soon as I had read a few paragraphs out loud to them, I knew why the chapter seemed to drag. Hearing the words in my own voice, and watching the group’s reaction, told me what I needed to know.  I re-wrote the chapter, and took a much-improved version back for our next session.

My third writing group, Write Brain Trust, is new, and focuses on the intricacies of publishing.  We critique book covers, back cover copy, marketing plans, and other aspects of our publishing efforts.  Writers in this group have collectively published more than fifteen books in the past year, and the encouragement and information offered freely have been invaluable.

MP910216391How does one find critique groups such as these? Not by sitting in front of the computer all day typing. If I hadn’t realized I needed support and looked for it – in my case, the local writing class – I might still be struggling.

I still have a lot to learn about writing, but the journey is easier with company.

So as my sixth year of writing draws to an end, and my fifth year among the wonderful writers I now call friends, I wanted to let them all know how much they have enriched my life and my writing.

Posted in Philosophy, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

33 Comments

  1. “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” ~ I don’t know who said this, however, I’m hoping my new critique group through the Atlanta Writer’s Club is going to be the “teacher’ i need to take my writing to the next level.

    I agree. Critique groups are important.

    Smiles,

    Linda Joyce

  2. “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” ~ I don’t know who said this, however, I’m hoping my new critique group through the Atlanta Writer’s Club is going to be the “teacher’ i need to take my writing to the next level.

    I agree. Critique groups are important.

    Smiles,

    Linda Joyce

  3. I like how these different groups fulfill different needs. I’ve never heard of a publishing group before, but it sounds like a marvelous idea.

  4. I like how these different groups fulfill different needs. I’ve never heard of a publishing group before, but it sounds like a marvelous idea.

  5. This is a really nice piece, Theresa. I sent it to Vicky Letterman at Turtlehouse Ink. She wrote a piece on her frustrations w/writing groups and asked for feedback. She may want to post this on her blog if that’s okay.

  6. This is a really nice piece, Theresa. I sent it to Vicky Letterman at Turtlehouse Ink. She wrote a piece on her frustrations w/writing groups and asked for feedback. She may want to post this on her blog if that’s okay.

  7. Everything I’ve published in the last twenty years has gained from the feedback I’ve gotten from the Kansas City Writers Group and now the technical know-how of the Write Brain Trust. You’ve beautifully stated how this happens in this group of beautiful friends and supporters. Bravo!

  8. Everything I’ve published in the last twenty years has gained from the feedback I’ve gotten from the Kansas City Writers Group and now the technical know-how of the Write Brain Trust. You’ve beautifully stated how this happens in this group of beautiful friends and supporters. Bravo!

  9. Theresa – glad I received a “Like” from you on one of my recent blog articles at http://www.babyboomersandmore.com. And I’m extremely happy to read your article above as I have recently started my very first rough draft for my very first Novel and realize more than ever how beneficial a writing group can be. I live in the Seattle area and will see what I can find along the same lines as yourself. Many thanks for encouraging me to do so by virtue of your article!

  10. Theresa – glad I received a “Like” from you on one of my recent blog articles at http://www.babyboomersandmore.com. And I’m extremely happy to read your article above as I have recently started my very first rough draft for my very first Novel and realize more than ever how beneficial a writing group can be. I live in the Seattle area and will see what I can find along the same lines as yourself. Many thanks for encouraging me to do so by virtue of your article!

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