For Whom the Critique Group Tolls

Judithe Little discusses the importance and benefit of being part of a critique group.
Author:
Publish date:

by Judithe Little

Hemingway once said, “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness, but I doubt if they improve his writing.”

We all know Hemingway was a spinner of myths, of man versus beast and man versus nature, of wrestling thousand pound marlins and masterful prose out of dark and mysterious places. He had to say things like this.

But we also know he was part of a vibrant fellowship—a veritable moveable feast—of writers. He had Paris, Montmartre, Stein, Fitzgerald, Joyce and so many others. He belonged, in effect, to a de facto organization for writers, to a critique group.

[Related: 2nd Draft Critique & Editing Services]

Which means even when he was alone, he wouldn’t have been truly alone. He would have had the voices of his critique group in his head, Joyce in his white jacket, Fitzgerald chain-smoking Chesterfields, hovering over his shoulder like literary guardian angels or red-horned devils, prodding with pitchforks. What about this? they would say. What about that?

I’m in a critique group. I know what happens. The voices of your fellow writers take root in your head, pushing you to do better. It has nothing to do with absinthe (although there are times you might want some).

“Boring, boring, boring!!!”

My critique group once had a member notorious for writing “boring, boring, boring!!!” in the margins of our pages. While the delivery wasn’t ideal, she was always right. The pace was too slow. There wasn’t enough tension. It just took a day or two to stop seeing red and admit it.

She finished her book, published it and moved on. But those words are always in my thoughts when I write, reminding me that each scene has to push the story forward. It has to have a purpose. If it doesn’t, it will be boring, boring, boring.

“Slow down—we want more!”

Sometimes I’m on a roll. I’m churning out the pages and dreaming about typing “The End” when the dreaded critique group chorus “we want to know more” comes up.

The truth is, a part of me knew I was being lazy. I knew I needed to spend more time on certain scenes. The voices were trying to tell me, but I wasn’t listening. I wanted to FINISH.

As a result, the motivation of my characters wasn’t clear. I didn’t include details that would bring the scene to life. I hadn’t gone all the way in. I hoped I could get away with it, but the critique group called me out.

“We like dysentery.” And, “Maggots are good!”

One member of my group is writing a novel set during the civil war. She writes beautifully, and when she first brought drafts of hospital scenes, they were very … beautiful. There was no blood, no gore.

So she added details such as her main character’s experience with dysentery and a description of a maggot-infected wound. We were thrilled. “We like dysentery!” we said. And “Maggots are good!”

Now, one of the voices I hear when I write asks, is this scene logical? Is it realistic? Or does it need some maggots?

Critique groups are funny. They make you say strange things. They put voices in your head. But what they are at heart is readers. They are your audience. They don’t just teach you to write. They teach you how to tell a story.

So Ernest, if you can hear me, my critique group does palliate the loneliness. But it also makes me a better writer.

Judithe Little grew up in Virginia and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia. After a brief time studying in France and interning at the U.S. Department of State, she earned her law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law where she was on the Editorial Board of the Journal of International Law and a Dillard Fellow. She lives with her husband and three children in Houston, Texas.

Related Resources:

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Magazine Cover Reveal, Literary Agent Boot Camp Announced, and More!

This week, we’re excited to reveal the cover for our upcoming July/August issue of Writer’s Digest, a Literary Agent Boot Camp, and more!

Camille Aubray: Understanding the Nuances of Human Nature

Camille Aubray: Understanding the Nuances of Human Nature

Author Camille Aubray discusses her recent novel The Godmothers, including what prompted the book, why writers should write everything down, the importance of understanding the nuances of human nature, and more.

How Personal Writing and Journaling Is Good for the Soul and Why Your Journal Is Your Soul Mate

How Personal Writing and Journaling Is Good for the Soul and Why Your Journal Is Your Soulmate

Bestselling author Laura Munson shares how journaling lead to a breakthrough in her fiction writing and how you can use journaling to do the same.

From Script

A Fond Farewell to Netflix’s Lucifer, Writing Video Games, and Do Experts Stand in the Way of Your Writing Goals?: From Script

In this week’s round up brought to us by ScriptMag.com, exclusive interviews with Lucifer TV writer Chris Rafferty and video game writer Ian Ryan. Plus, learn about screenwriting trailblazer France Goodrich Hacket, who co-wrote It’s a Wonderful Life, and advice on when and when not to approach a writing expert to reach your writing goals.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Misusing Dialogue Tags

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Misusing Dialogue Tags

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake writers make is misusing dialogue tags.

Poetic Forms

Boketto: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, Walter J. Wojtanik shares his relatively new form, the boketto.

Paul Neilan: On Implementing Dark Humor

Paul Neilan: On Implementing Dark Humor

In this article, author Paul Neilan explains how he came up with the idea for his mystery and dark comedy novel The Hollywood Spiral.

WD-Poetry-2020-WinnerGraphic

Deborah Hall, 2020 Writer's Digest Poetry Awards Winner

The winner of the 2020 Writer’s Digest Poetry Awards discusses the inspiration behind her first-place poem, “The Loneliest Whale."

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Split Up

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Split Up

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have your characters split up.