Disclaimer: I am not going to name any of the groups I have been involved with, and the aim of this post is not to discourage anyone from joining a group. These thoughts are just my own.
This is a topic I have been back and forth over for a large part of my writing journey. At first, I couldn’t imagine myself NOT joining a critique group as soon as I could send off a request. After all, there were so many more experienced writers out there with much to offer. I could only envision the inexhaustible source of tips, suggestions, and helpful hints that were waiting just beyond the approval email. I was a little skittish to post my scribblings in the beginning, but I finally built up enough courage to share something I had written with all fifteen members of the group. I clicked the Submit button and sat back, nearly biting off every last one of my fingernails in dread of what others might think.
It didn’t take long for me to realize I would need to be patient. For some reason, I assumed people were sitting at their computers just waiting for my unedited manuscript to pop up on their screen. I began to scroll through different posts looking for something easy I could critique in return. The rule was to review and comment on at least two other posts for every one critique received. At least, I think that was it. I was in two or three, but they all followed similar guidelines. As I picked one out to critique, I started to wonder what qualified me to judge someone else. At the time, I was not even a published author, and the idea of commenting on another’s work made me nervous.
I remember marking some things that jumped out at me, hoping and praying the person wouldn’t get angry and ban me from the group. It was a frightening experience for me, but the author replied back with a thank you and best wishes. They were probably cursing me with every thunk of the keyboard as they typed out the email.
After a couple of days, I finally received my first critique. Thankfully, I have tough skin and can handle criticism. If not, I seriously doubt I would be writing today. I don’t think they intended to sound mean, pompous, and downright rude, but it was my first impression when I read the review. I changed some of the items they pointed out, but not everything. After a few more months, I realized it was always going to be like that. I couldn’t understand how one writer’s approach would be appropriate for me and vice versa. I stayed with the group for awhile longer, and then decided it was not for me, and left.
I tried a couple more groups, but they ended with the same result. At that point, I knew I had to find my own voice and write in a method with which I was more comfortable. Once I embraced that freedom, my creativity started to emerge, and I believe my writing improved. I’m my own worst critic, and I do not want anyone to think I’m saying I write better than everyone else, because, believe me, I don’t. I just think that once I quit worrying about what others were going to think of my work, I was able to concentrate more on the story. Having said that, I do hope there are people in the world who enjoy my books and might even purchase one. I’m not here to make millions. I just want to carve out a living by doing something I love and for which I have a passion.
Soon after I decided not to join a critique group again, I read an interview with my favorite author of all time, Dean Koontz. In it, he said, “When reading how-to tips from any writer, always remember that what technique or attitude works for him or her might be so alien to your creative nature that to adopt it unthinkingly will do you no good and might hamstring you.”
That is where I stand today. Writing fiction does not have one, ultimate rule. It is creativity that comes from deep within our heart and soul. Sure, there are mechanics and basic principles that all brilliant authors adhere to, but we must all find a distinctive voice of our own.
Next week: October, Dad, and Tee Time.
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