A couple months ago I got to participate on a panel during our local literary festival (SpringWrites.org) called "Play Well with Others." It was meant to be about the relationship between writing and editing, and to a large extent about the relationship between the writer and editor.
Very lofty goal that, so of course I hijacked the conversation frequently to talk about something just as important – the relationship between writers. Namely, how vastly important it is to have a community of writers, and how to use and abuse those wordsmiths to give you and your work the critiques it needs to not suck.
Not sucking is very important. I first got handle on critique groups when I attended a week-long workshop called Viable Paradise in 2007. My class became my tribe. We went into the trenches boys and girls, and came out hardened warriors with words as our weapons. Or maybe we just drank a lot. But ultimately we bonded over our like-minded need to NOT SUCK. And having other writers read your work and give you feedback is key to that. I quickly found a local group in my hometown to join and have read a few thousand words to them every two weeks ever since. They are the first line of defense against the suckage.
But there are clear rules you have to follow even if you do find the perfect group.
1) Don't take it personally. They don't want you to suck either. (Unless they do, and you can probably tell, so go find another group.)
2) Don't personally attack. The person is not their work, the work is not the person. Stephen King didn't drop pig's blood on Carrie, JK Rowling isn't a witch, and John Grisham isn't really a lawyer. Wait, maybe he's not really a writer? Okay, either way, he's probably not working for the mob. Get it?
3) Know you can always change it back. No group is infallible, and I've seen some get a little mob-mentality going during a critique, pounding on elements you think are no big deal. A good rule of thumb is that if three people agree something is wrong, it's probably pretty wrong. But you always have the option of disagreeing.
How do you find a group of your own? I got lucky with a Google search, so I'd start there. Check out the forums of Absolute Write. If you are fine with online rather than in-person, check out Critters Workshop and the Online Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. They may charge you a little, but you'll get a first hand look at what critiquing –both receiving and giving—are all about.
(Caveat: critique groups don't guarantee not sucking. But they sure do help.)
About the Author:
Eric Griffith is the author of the sci-fi novel BETA TEST from Hadley Rille Books, which Publishers Weekly called “an unusually lighthearted apocalyptic tale.” By day he works as the features editor for PCMag.com. By night he sneaks out of the house to write fictions. He currently lives in Ithaca, New York. You can follow his online exploits daily via http://egriffith.info