Lessons Learned from My Critique Group



May 31 , 2012 | Posted by megfleming |

Lessons Learned from My Critique Group

On deadlines…

“Goals are dreams with deadlines.”
~ Diana Scharf Hunt

As much as I stress about deadlines, without them I would have nothing but ideas. Ever since I started meeting with my critique group, my productivity has more than doubled. I am no longer simply writing for myself; I am on a mission to meet a group deadline. It’s quite exciting! Every other Friday, we submit our new work by midnight. I feel charged to forgo sleep and write on because I know that I am not writing alone.

While many successful writers set goals, meet deadlines, and forge their dreams individually, I find it extremely helpful to have a group expecting my submission. When a critique partner asks, “So…where’s that query?” she adds strength to my dream.

On Friday nights at 6 p.m., the pre-deadline–perspiration begins, and thankfully, so do the fresh pages.

On trust…

“I think that we may safely trust a good deal more than we do.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

Maybe it was luck, maybe it was fate…or maybe finding trusted companions along this road is much easier than we think. I do count myself lucky to have found a group of people that I completely trust with my manuscripts. We care about one another’s characters as much as we care about one another. This sort of trust makes it easy to be an honest writer.

On persistence…

“Energy and persistence conquer all things.”
~ Benjamin Franklin

Good ol’ Ben! He makes it sound so easy. All we need are (a) energy and (b) persistence. Done!

Despite the fact that these two ingredients are hard to come by, I have watched the members of my group work tirelessly on their manuscripts in order to achieve their own personal seal of approval.

On collaboration…

“I think it is in collaboration that the nature of art is revealed.”
~ Steve Lacy

I love it when we all show up to critique group with specific questions about our stories…questions we’ve been mulling over on our own but cannot answer. When we sit down together, the answers seem to reveal themselves through easy conversation.

Every time we open our manuscripts up to fresh ideas, we walk away with pages of hand-scribbled notes and the burning desire to revise.

On encouragement…

“There is nothing better than the encouragement of a good friend.”
~ Katharine Butler Hathaway

Where would we be without encouragement?

Because we regularly face rejection, doubt can easily outrun our purpose. But when a fellow critiquer says, “You can do it!” everything changes. Timely encouragement is like crumpling up a thousand rejections and stuffing it in the face of doubt.

It is an incredible gift…a cathartic call to action.

On heart…

“What comes from the heart, goes to the heart.”
~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Be it serious or funny, the best writing opens my heart to a point where I feel I know the author on a personal level. In writing for children, I am on a continual quest for authenticity—for real people, real voices, real heart. The heart is the birthplace of emotion. It is where manuscripts learn to sing. My critique group reminds me to be bold and write with heart.

On perspective…

“A little perspective, like a little humor, goes a long way.”
~ Allen Klein

Just the other night after a critique group session, one of the members said, “It is so great to crawl out of the box and get some new ideas.” Stepping away and looking at a story from another person’s point of view is fresh air for the manuscript.

Stepping into a new situation is always a little nerve-racking. When our critique group first formed, we had the classic “getting to know you” phase, followed by the comforting “this is gonna be cool” phase. And then we were struck by something unexpected, the “this ROCKS!” phase. What brought on such change?

It was a dose of perspective…followed by uproarious laughter, which almost got us kicked out of Barnes & Noble. Indeed, laughter is the glue that keeps people together.

For this, I am ever so grateful.

The Prairie Wind. www.scbwi-illinois.org (September 2010)