Here are some of the benefits a critique group can offer a writer:
- Valuable feedback – When your writing is fresh on the page, it’s sometimes difficult to judge its merit. Critique group partners can give you the benefit of a reader’s objective perspective on your work.
- Valuable suggestions – Members in your group can point out weak spots and problem areas in your work, and may suggest resources – books, software, contacts, etc. – of which you were not aware.
- Accountability – Your group will meet regularly – weekly or monthly, or somewhere in between. As the point of the group is to share work and invite comments and feedback, these regular meetings provide you with an added impetus not to procrastinate.
- Encouragement – Good critique group partners provide honest feedback but do so in a way that encourages further effort.
- Camraderie – Writing is a solo profession. It’s you and the blank sheet of actual or virtual paper. Meeting with a critique group alleviates that. Critique group partners can validate you as a writer even before you get published.
- Speeding Your Trajectory to Publication – You aren’t working solely on the basis of trial and error any longer. For me, this is the key benefit of a critique group.
What a critique group cannot do for you, and what it is unfair to expect:
- Editing and book doctoring – That is what professional book doctors, editors and ghostwriters are paid to do. Critique group partners can comment on your work, and point you in the right direction. But the decision-making responsibility regarding specifics of plot and structure, and the time-consuming heavy lifting of actually working through a novel or short story remain with the author.
- “Thinking through” your story lines and all of the other issues associated with creating a fictional world in specific detail – This includes theme, setting, characterization, etc.
Critique group partners may and should offer suggestions to address any problem areas of your work you wish to discuss or which they bring to your attention. At times, a partner might suggest something that works beautifully as a specific or key fix for a problem area. But at other times, they may only bring your attention to an issue and you will have to think through how to fix it.
Your critique partners are not being grudging if they do not always offer specifics, by the way. It’s just that writing is thinking, and your particular story issue may need research, careful analysis and consideration; or, it may even need to be “put on a backburner” for your subconscious mind to work on and to come up with that perfect creative solution. Resolving story issues like this are part of the challenge – and the exhiliration – of writing!