I’ve done a lot of different things to support and improve my writing over the years. I’ve read books, I’ve been on courses, I’ve attended conferences, I've set myself challenges; I’ve tried different methods of organising my time, of structuring my planning, of generating ideas; I’ve worked with a mentor and had beta-readers read my work.
But the single most important thing I’ve done is to join a critique group.
I love my crit group. It’s been over a year since I’ve seen them in person and I can’t tell you how excited I am to see them again. Next month! I’m counting the days! I’m not going to go so far as to say that this is thing I’m looking forward to most about lockdown being over, but it’s right near the top.
Of course we’ve met by Zoom, which works to a certain extent, but you miss the ebb and flow of an in-person meeting. The formality of a Zoom meeting doesn’t really lend itself to the wide-ranging chat that stretches the beginnings and ends of our in-person meetings – you have to talk one at a time because it’s difficult to read each other’s cues in the way of a normal conversation. Plus most of us have already spent enough time with computers each day.
The thing about a crit group, above all, is the intimacy of it. This group of people know your work and you know theirs. You know when they’re struggling and why; you know when they’re excited about something new or because something’s going well. You present your work to them and ask, “Does this work?” and you trust their honesty and their kindness to provide you with feedback that will allow you to move forward.
How do you get to that point? It takes time. It’s always tricky when a new person enters the group. You don’t know them, they don’t know you. They’re exposing themselves, heart and soul, to a group of people who are already tight-knit. Everyone has to go gently, gently, until you begin to have an understanding of each other.
Once you’ve got that understanding, this is the group who will tell you what you’re doing wrong and you will take it from them. They will be your cheerleaders when you’re getting it right. They will understand your writing dilemmas and dreams better than your nearest and dearest because they are writers too.
And this is the group who you will be sure to thank in the acknowledgements of your book (and your Costa acceptance speech… and when the film of your book gets an Oscar…)