By Diane Weiner
Of all the things I’ve done to improve my writing, I’d have to say that belonging to a critique group tops the list. I belong to a group that meets monthly (good with my full time work schedule). In my group, we bring 5 pages to share. We read aloud in the order we arrive, and receive both verbal and written comments. The moderator is excellent about keeping time – we each get 15 minutes- and about keeping the focus on the writing. In this group, there is only one other mystery writer, so I get a chance to hear and be inspired by other genres. I am exposed to genres I don’t necessarily read such as short stories, poems, science fiction, historical fiction, and an abundance of memoirs (not my favorite). Each writer brings his or her own strengths, so from one I hear beautifully crafted sentences, from another, vivid descriptions.
I choose to bring in scenes that are pivotal to the story, or that I’m struggling with. By reading aloud to the group, I’ve learned where I need to be more dramatic or more clear. They are quick to point out things like “wouldn’t the bad guy see the flashlight glow from Susan’s phone?” or “how does Susan swim when her hands are supposed to be duct taped?” Also, there’s nothing like reading a prison scene to a group where one of the members taught in a prison and another is in law enforcement! I knew I didn’t know enough about describing a prison visit, and their comments helped immensely, as I knew they would.
In addition to enjoying my own growth as a writer, I find satisfaction in watching others grow as well. One of our writers has cerebal palsy and has to give her work to the moderator to read. She doesn’t have good control over her hands, and I admire the dedication and patience she has. Writing is hard enough when you don’t have typing issues! For months she read what honestly sounded like a textbook. Then last month, she came in with a tear- jerking piece she’d written about the love of her life. He had recently died. It was so touching and so different from her other writing. The entire group encouraged her to expand that work into a book, and she is going to do just that. Another member has been coping with the death of her husband through her writing.
If you are a writer at any level, I’d highly recommend joining a critique group. You may have to try a few different ones out before finding one that you are comfortable with, but I believe it’s worth the effort.