Critique groups and writing buddies: a quick guide
Unless you’re collaborating with others, the act of writing is, by its nature, a rather solitary activity. But the actual process of writing a story is only the first of many steps. The next step – revision – needs others. Whether it’s a professional editor, a beta reader, a friend whose opinion you value, or an anonymous stranger on the other side of the internet, finding and using a writing buddy who can tell you when you’re on track and when you need to put in a little more work is a necessary part of getting your manuscript ready to be seen by the general public.
The local critique group
Founding a local writer’s critique group is both challenging and rewarding. It can be difficult to find other local writers who are dedicated enough to their craft to continue with an organized group on an ongoing basis, and who all get along well and have something to offer each other.
One of the best bets for finding local, dedicated writers who might be interested in an ongoing critique group is to join a writing course at your local college or community center. You might not feel like you need the instruction, but making contact with fellow dedicated writers is often worth the price of admission.
Alternately, you could advertise in local listings (Kijji, Craigslist, meetup.com) to find others who are interested in the same thing you are. It might take some time to find the right group of people with whom you really mesh well, but the rewards are well worth it.
Even online writers groups can help you find local writers with whom to meet face-to-face. When you sign up for the yearly writer’s challenge National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo), you can join localized message forums and join in local write-ins and meet-ups.
Another great way to find fellow writers is to attend conferences for and about writers. These conferences can pull people from far and wide, so although you might not find local writers, you may make enough connections that you can organize an online writer’s group of your very own. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Ottawa Writer’s Festival – October, Ottawa, ON
Saskatchewan Festival of Words – July, Moose Jaw, SK
The Vancouver Writer’s Fest – October, Vancouver, BC
San Francisco Writers Conference – February, San Francisco, CA
Self-Publishing Book Expo – October, New York City, NY
Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival – July, Harrogate, UK
The Winchester Writers Conference – June, Winchester, UK
Perth Writers Festival – February, Perth, AU
Sydney Writers Festival – May, Sydney, AU
Emerging Writers Festival – May, Melbourne, AU
The online critique group
If you’re a little nervous about meeting other people in person, or if you’re in a small or remote community where other writers are thin on the ground, then an online critique group might be the best way to go for you. There are dozens of great critiquing sites available. Here is just a brief cross-section of websites to help get you started:
Critique Circle: When you sign up, you can add your story to the newbies queue for free; thereafter, in order to earn credits for the critiques of others, you have to offer critiques of your own. This is a great system to ensure full participation, and you’ll get a lot of thoughtful reviews and critiques. Don’t see critiquing the works of others as a chore: it’s actually a great way to hone your own reviewing skills.
Fan Story: All writing and all genres are welcome: poetry, prose, or scripts, partial or complete. Offer critiques and receive critiques on everything you post. Take advantage of the vibrant community, participate in monthly contests, or take an online writing course.
Writing.com: Keep an online portfolio, get critiques on your work, and gain access to valuable tools and contests to keep you growing, reviewing, and improving.
There are even sites to help those writers who are true hermits – the AutoCrit Editing Wizard doesn’t require contact with another human being at all. Simply upload your chapter or section, click the “Analyze” button, and the automated editor will alert you to overused words, clichés, missing dialog tags, and more.
No matter where you find them, your writing buddies are an invaluable part of the writing process. We spend so much time with our own words, it really does help to have a second (or third, or fifteenth) pair of eyes on it to point out to us the missteps that we’ve become inured to. Revision is much easier with a buddy or two, and their objectivity is crucial to getting our manuscripts in the best shape possible.