I joined my first critique group for writers when I lived in Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s. I had met the other members of my group when we all co-edited the literary journal Primavera. We did not have time during our editorial staff meetings to discuss one another’s creative writing. So five of us started a monthly evening workshop just for our own work. These meetings motivated us to do at least some new writing every month. We gave constructive feedback to everyone, which we found helpful and encouraging.
When I say “constructive feedback,” I do not mean mindless praise. The people in my group were honest about what they felt needed improvement. One evening, I brought a friend who wanted to join the group. Her poems had many strengths, but we also pointed out directions for revision. My friend was so overwhelmed by the criticism that she never returned to the writers’ group. This taught me that writers need to be open-minded to criticism if they want to grow and become better at communicating with readers.
Some members of the writers’ group began to publish widely. We shared our frustrations and successes with one another. We helped one another to problem-solve. For example, one member of the group was writing a historical novel. During a trip, another member of the group took photos of the site of a crime in the historical novel. These pictures helped the novelist to describe the scene using accurate details. In addition to helping one another, we also became better friends.
Now I live in Michigan, and I started another monthly writers’ group, which has been meeting since 2006. Like my first group, this gang also motivates everyone to generate more literature and gives constructive criticism. I don’t know what I would do without my writers’ group friends.
–Originally posted on December 12, 2010
Note: I started my current writers’ group right after I published How the Moon Regained Her Shape. I met most of the group members at my book-signing events.