English: Edward Albee and Al Filreis in discus...
English: Edward Albee and Al Filreis in discussion at the Kelly Writers House (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the problems writers encounter is assessing their work. How does one determine if the piece they’ve so studiously worked on is worthy of being published?  The danger in asking one’s spouse, or other family members for their opinion, is that an honest answer isn’t always forthcoming. Who is comfortable criticizing their partner? Criticism can lead to other problems. Moreover, unless the person from whom the opinion was requested is also a writer, how useful is the feedback?

The answer may simply be to join a critique group. Depending on where you live, there may be several to choose from. If none exist, you may want to start one yourself, or join an online group. My preference, however, is for the face-to-face group. There are advantages to sharing your work in person:

  • By reading your work aloud, both you and your fellow writers get a better sense of how the piece flows, and whether the writing and/or dialogue is smooth and natural.
  • Instant feedback quickly allows the writer to edit the problem areas while the critique is still fresh in their mind.
  • The writer can gauge the reaction their work is meant to elicit. If a line is supposed to be humorous, yet none of your fellow writers laugh, you know that particular line or remark needs tweaking.
  • Fellow writers can help you with any problems in a manuscript, poem, or short story.
  • Critiques groups are a great place to meet other writers, particularly, those that write in the same genre as you do.
  • Analyzing other people’s work improves your ability to judge your own writing.
  • Listening to remarks from others can teach you different writing techniques and demonstrate what works and what does not.

The disadvantages to meeting face to face can sometimes be uncomfortable and cause insecure writers to abandon the group:

  • If there are no other writers in your genre, you may feel it necessary to search for another group. However, even though there may not be similar writers, basic writing mechanics can still be critiqued and improved.
  • Sometimes personalities clash. There may be one or two critique members who dominate the session, or who seem to be overly critical. The group leader should exercise control and ensure the group’s guidelines are adhered to.
  • If the group is large, it may be several meetings before you are able to read your own work.
  • The meeting time and place may conflict with your schedule.

How do you choose the right group? Do a little research first, attend a meeting or two just to see how the group operates, and whether or not you feel the people are a good fit. If you don’t like the group, move on to another one or try an online group. People come and go all the time in critique groups—no worries. The important thing is to have your work looked at by other writers. Feedback is sometimes difficult to hear, but without it, the alternative is writing in a vacuum, something that will never help you improve.

Next up—online critique groups, pros and cons.