Do I Need to be in a Writers Group or have a Critique Partner?

Only
if you want your writing to improve! 
Writing
for publication is an endeavor built on forging relationships. And those
relationships can ultimately determine your success or failure in the writing
industry. Here’s a list of those relationships.
  • Between you and other writers.
  • Between you and the reader.
  • Between the reader and the subject or characters.
  • Between you and the editor.
  • Between you and your agent.

I
listed the relationship between writers first, because surprisingly, it’s often
the most vital in your writing life. 
The actual act of putting words on paper
is a solitary act and because of that it’s easy to lose perspective. Writing in
a vacuum can give us a false sense of whether or not we’re effective in our
endeavor. We either wind up thinking we’re a genius or sink into the depths of
despair because we can’t string two coherent sentences together. Rarely is
either perspective accurate.
We
need others in our profession to give us feedback, keep us grounded and provide
encouragement. You may be tempted, like I was at first, to insert friends and
family into this role. Unless they’re also writers this dynamic just doesn’t
work. They’ll unwittingly encourage you when you need a swift kick in the pants
and administer the kick in the pants when you need encouragement.
That’s
where a writers group, critique group or critique partner will help. But you
have to be careful—some critique and writers groups can be toxic. I’ve visited
some groups where the purpose appears to be to build up the one delivering the
critique by tearing down the hapless author. You want to avoid these groups at
all cost.
Here’s
a list of what to look for in a group or a partner:
  • An encouraging atmosphere –not all sweetness and light—nobody improves
    on false compliments. But I’ve almost never found a manuscript that didn’t have
    some redeeming quality.
  • A mutually beneficial relationship. You should both bring something
    valuable if it’s a partnership—you may excel at writing dialogue and your
    partner is a whiz at description.
  • A hunger to improve. If it’s a group there should be a movement toward
    growth in the majority of members. Even if you’re all beginners, if you’re all
    reading writing books and attending classes you’ll be able to grow and learn
    together.
  • A timekeeper. If someone’s not willing to keep track of the time not
    everyone will get a chance to be critiqued. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got
    to do it! 

Now
you know what to look for, where do you find these people?
  • In
    this day and time, a lot of information about others looking for a critique
    group or partner can be found online, from groups you may already be a part of.
  • Local
    bookstores often have lists of writing groups that meet in the area.
  • Libraries
    usually have this information as well.
  • Writing
    conferences and workshops are a good place to meet like-minded individuals. I met my critique
    partner at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers conference—and we live
    less than two miles apart. 

Once
you’ve found someone you think might work, propose a short trial period. I
recommend a three to six month trial. Then take some time to evaluate how the
relationship is working. This takes the pressure off if it’s not a good fit.
So
now here’s your chance—what experiences have you had with writing groups and
partnerships?
Edie Melson is a freelance writer and editor with years of experience in the publishing industry. She’s a prolific writer, and has a popular writing blog, The Write Conversation. She’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, as well as a popular faculty member at numerous others. She’s also the social media columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and social media coach for My Book Therapy. Connect with her through Twitter andFacebook.