It’s difficult beginning a writing career. For the most part you’ve no idea how good you are. Sure, your family thinks you’re the next bestseller, and your friends are mildly impressed you can string words together to form a sentence, but every submission you send comes back rejected.
What do you do?
Every writer needs feedback to grow and to improve their craft. That feedback isn’t going to come from people who don’t want to hurt your feelings. What you need is good critiquing group. Unfortunately, getting into one isn’t easy.
So many writers are introverts. They like nothing better than to be left alone and write, emerging occasionally from their mental cocoon to get some tea or coffee, check their emails, and maybe spend too much time on social media. Here is where the Internet can be a good thing. There are online groups you can join such as Critters Writers Workshop. It’s free to join, with a simple quid pro quo for getting critiques for your work.
While Critters is a great entry-drug, nothing beats a face-to-face critiquing group. This is even harder to get together. First you have to find the right people, settle on the logistics of location, decide on a suitable time for all to attend, and most importantly, who will bring the snacks. You can try to get into an established group, but I advise against it. Instead, find other writers that are on the same level as you and have the same goals for success. You will soon discover you each have different strengths and weaknesses. You will challenge each other to become better writers. But if all anyone wants to do is get out of the house and share poetry, move on.
So, where to find these people?
Well, going to local genre conventions is a great place to network. Posting on the bulletin board of your local public library is another source. And of course there is our old friend Social Media. I was asked to join my group The Stop-Watch Gang because I’d gone to conventions, made connections so that when the group formed my name came up. Joining the Gang was the best decision of my career.
Okay, you’ve gathered a small group, now what?
Establish rules of conduct and of critiquing. We’re called the Stop-Watch Gang because we time our critiques. Literally. We have five minutes set on a watch. When the five minutes are up an alarm goes off and we stop. That way we avoid extraneous nitpicks and get right into the nitty-gritty. At the end of the critiques the author is free to respond and there is usually a little back and forth on how to fix things. You might think this harsh, but consider we were critiquing 3-4 stories a meeting with some 5-7 members. If you did the math…multiply by 3…carry the one…ah, well, that’s a long time. Anyway, it’s a process that works for us.
Another benefit of a good group is the support you get from them. Writing is hard and while the successes are great, sometimes you just find yourself floundering. A good group can bolster your confidence and reenergize you. Meeting for critiques or just getting together for a lunch is like going to a mini-convention. Usually a few of us go to the same local conventions and have at least one meal together. If we are there in force we might even try to organize our own panel.
That kind of camaraderie is invaluable, especially if you’re an introvert like me.