Essentials I — My Critique Group

This post is the first in a series devoted to the various things that are essential to my life as a writer. These things range from teaching to tea, and today’s topic is my critique group.

Pam and Maria

Some critique groups have names—The Front Street Four or The Writers of Rohan—but we never settled on a name. We never even tried. And now that I think about it, I don’t believe it would be possible to encapsulate who we are and what we mean to each other with a clever label.

All of us write for children, and we found each other through our regional chapter of SCBWI. We’ve met more or less once a month for four years, and we are frequently in touch by email in between. There were four of us for a time, but now we are only three, and that feels like the right size for us. We can usually find time to read whatever the others have written, and when we meet, each person’s work gets the attention it needs, with time left over to talk through anxieties and aspirations.

I have other people in my life who read what I write, and I am grateful for their time and their insights. They give me great suggestions and ask important questions. But they only walk along with me for part of my journey.

My critique group walks with me always. They read everything I write. They read rough attempts at first chapters that are quickly abandoned and last versions of polished work before it goes out to an agent or an editor. They read whole novels, and they read them several times. Because they’ve been there from the beginning of a book and they’ll be there at the end, they can ask hard questions and say things other readers often can’t or won’t.

The best recent example is when both of my critique partners independently suggested I’d chosen the wrong main character for my just-finished novel. They were right, and as I rewrite this book, they are with me, pointing out where I can do better, but also and always cheering me on.

And they have become good friends, which is important because sometimes life gets in the way of writing or sometimes facing the hard things in life is the only way to write.

There is no name for what we are: honest readers and friends, long-term critics and counselors. We three together—whatever we are—are essential to my life as a writer.

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