If I can’t get into a writers’ colony, I figured, I’ll join a critique group.
I found one pretty quickly in my area, through the Hudson Valley Writers Guild. And they met at my local library! How convenient.
But when I showed up at a meeting for the first time, I felt slightly out of place; I was about 30 years younger than everyone else in the room. In some cases, 50 years younger.
What did I expect? I was in suburbia, attending a meeting in the middle of the day. Of course all the other writers were retired. What other writers in their late 20s would be crazy enough to move back to suburbia and live with their parents so they could afford to write full time?
Somehow we got into a conversation about advice their mothers used to give them when they were little: Never get in a car when you’re not wearing underwear. Because if you get in an accident, and paramedics have to treat you, everyone will know you left the house without your panties.
(Yes, this is my life. I’m a 28-year-old living in suburbia with my parents and attending daytime meetings with gray-haired women who talk about their underwear. This book had better be worth it.)
I ditched the group even though they were a welcoming bunch. Not because they were old, but because they wrote poetry and haiku, and critiquing that type of writing requires a different eye than nonfiction. Then earlier this week, I tried a second group, one for nonfiction writers. And bam! We connected. I was still the youngest participant, but I left the meeting with a solid critique of six pages of a chapter. I felt like I helped the other writers, too.
A bit of advice for writers looking for a critique group:
Stick to your genre. Some writers like diversity in a group, mixing poets, and fiction and nonfiction writers. But me? I want people who are critiquing my work to understand the art of nonfiction, and that’s the genre I feel most qualified to edit. When it comes to critique groups, I’m all about homogeneity.
Keep it small. The fewer people in a group, the more time you spend critiquing each person’s writing. I think three or four is a perfect number.
Look for sparks. See whether you connect with the other writers. Are you on the same page? Do they understand your literary voice? When they suggest changes to your work, do your eyes occasionally widen in an Aha moment?
When all else fails, look for a critique group online. I recently joined Review Fuse based on a Twitter recommendation, and I’ve already gotten quality feedback on a piece I submitted. Virtual editors can be just as good as ones who are sitting right in front of you.