A while back on the blog one of my readers said something about critique groups that really got me thinking. Her comment was that while she loved her critique group she didn’t always trust their feedback. She had mixed feelings about that since she has learned a lot from them, but wasn’t sure they were always steering her in the right direction.
While I’ve never been in a critique group I think in some ways this is a great sign. A good critique group, like a good editor, shouldn’t always be telling you how to write or fix your book, they shouldn’t even always be able to identify what exactly is wrong. What a good critique group should do is help guide you, point out concerns, and get you thinking about your writing in different ways.
The truth about editing and edits, whether they are from an agent, an editor, a good friend or a critique group is that it’s all subjective. The dream editing partner is someone who understands you and understands your writing, but is still willing to address concerns even if she thinks you won’t be receptive to them. For example, I might tell you that the hero in your book is too manly and not sympathetic enough. Ultimately, just because I said it doesn’t make it right or doesn’t mean other agents, editors, and readers won’t feel differently. It’s just my opinion. Whether or not you make changes has to be up to you. However, if it even gets you thinking about your characterization, then I’ve done my job.
The very first step to success in this business is learning to trust yourself. Take everything you’re given from agents, editors, and critique partners and absorb it, weed through it, and decide what works for you and what doesn’t. Unfortunately, there’s never a guarantee in this business and that goes for edits too.
Okay, all of that being said, to have a good critique group I do feel you need to be getting something out of it, and that isn’t just on critiques of your own work. I honestly believe you can learn more from reading and critiquing the work of others than you can from the critiques you’re receiving.
There’s no magic answer in the arts. That goes for writing, painting, quilting, cooking, or photography. We all come to an art with our own ideas and our own baggage. Let others and their ideas help you learn, grow, and reevaluate your writing, but don’t expect someone else to tell you how to do it.