While I’ve been known to joke about critique groups (I made a short animated video early in 2011 titled “Beta Readers’ Critique Session” - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DiqdOuFP4M ), they’ve been pivotal for improving my writing Getting differing perspectives from others who understand the writing craft help stretch the writing muscles. I feel that critique groups are a worthy part of a writer’s routine.
Having other sets of eyes to review one’s work is great at catching inconsistencies. For example, critique members have pointed out when I had traffic lights working during a blackout. But, those critiquing can also catch nuances that aren’t errors of consistency. I’m grateful that other writers have helped me see when I admittedly overuse words or phrases. There can also be larger points bridged in critiques regarding plot pacing or setting descriptions, for example. A specific critique group will often have its own rhythm and kinds of advice given between members.
Incorporating others’ advice into one’s work is solely the writer’s responsibility, not those critiquing, so I find it best to think of critiques as suggestions. Since different members may give conflicting advice, it is impossible to make changes based on every point made. But, the decision over whether to make a change or not based on a critique is likely to strengthen one’s writing over time. I like to think of going to a critique group as analogous to a trip to the gym to lift weights. Gradually, a writer builds better muscle for writing through regular group attendance.
Just as gyms and health clubs vary given equipment and ambiance, so too do critique groups. Critique groups may be face-to-face or online. Some groups focus on specific genres. Some tend to be supportive and others more critical. As groups vary, I don’t believe there’s only one ideal type of critique group for every writer.
What is most important is a writer gets what he needs from a critique group to improve his own work. A given group may only build a writer’s capacity in limited ways. A writer can always belong to more than one. I find an online critique forum helps supplement what I get from the group I’ve attended face-to-face for several years. It may take more than one group for a full range writing workout.
During the critique group process, a writer observes as members critique other writers. I find watching how other writers respond to critiques gives me insight into my own patterns. When silently observing instead of participating while one member critiques another, I have emotional distance. Since critiques I’ve received are usually fresh in my mind at the time, that distance gives me more room for breakthroughs to occur – another unique benefit of the group dynamic.
So, I do suggest other writers join critique groups. While writing can often be a lonely activity, meeting regularly with other writers often forms great friendships. But, a writer may also get valuable advice from a member he otherwise doesn’t get along with well. The most important benefits of critique groups are making a writer’s prose stronger and leaner.
About the Author:
Tangled Ties to a Manatee is his debut novel.
He has had poetry published and several plays, both one act and full-length, produced locally. Two short stories have been published as well. "Feral" is a short story published in Off the Rocks, v. 14, ed Allison Fradkin, NewTown Writers Chicago, 2010, pp. 119-126. "Transforming Oracle" is a self-published short story available at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/29507.
Kalen’s website is http://www.kalencap.com.
He can be readily connected with through the following social media profiles – Twitter: @kalencap Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/KalenCap
Google+ : http://gplus.to/Kalencap
A pregnant manatee is rare at any zoo, and a first for the Grove City Zoo in Ohio. Ankh is a delight to zoo patrons, a concern to its staff, and the unintentional victim of two con men. She has no idea how many human relationships, problems, and dreams tangle around her.
Jerry is a young developmentally disabled man who happily follows Ankh's pregnancy on the zoo's webcam. He has a shy crush on Janelle, a pretty college student who volunteers for his group home’s outings to the zoo.
Jerry's Aunt Vera also loves nature and runs an environmental retreat center. But all is not well, with Vera or the center. The center needs money and is under investigation as a cult.
Amid their college studies, Janelle and her friend Cecily try to help. Instead, Janelle re-awakens an old obsession in Vera when an innocent tarot reading hints at how the center might be saved.
Two bumbling con men are attempting to sabotage the region’s electrical grid as part of a lucrative scheme. But Jerry accidentally gets in their way and becomes their captive.
When the con men surprisingly succeed in bringing the grid down, it spells danger for Ankh, her unborn pup, and the many people tied to them both. With investigations of their own, Cecily and Janelle try to untangle it all to find Jerry, save a manatee’s life, and rescue Vera from herself.
Tangled Ties to a Manatee is a humorous crime thriller with environmental themes that is revealed through multiple points of view. The novel emphasizes college-aged characters, though not all, such as the developmentally disabled ones, are in college.