Formally, my husband was my critiquer. I would ask him to read my stories, and he would give me the customary "This is good." I thought with his experience of reading hundreds of Picture Books, and children's literature to my children, he'd be able to give me some valuable insight to my writing. I was wrong.
My husband was a cheerleader "My wife is the best, writer in the land, If she can't write it, nobody can." Okay--okay, maybe he didn't say that, but hopefully I've made my point.
While it was important to have someone cheering me on, I needed someone that would look at my writing with a critical eye and provide me with criticisms. I'm not saying that I wanted someone to just negatively criticize my work, but I wanted someone to constructively analyze the merits and pitfalls of my writing. I needed to know what I was doing right, and how I could improve and strengthen the areas that needed revision.
To me, joining a critique group means that I can now see my work through other people's eyes. Sometimes, a writer becomes tone to deaf his or her own writing. It's great to have someone say "What did you mean by this?" or "What about doing it this way instead?" Sometimes, my group members are just confirming that nagging feeling in the back of my head that is saying something isn't right. Other times, they are telling me when they enjoy a sentence or passage that I've written. Then there are the times, they are pointing something out that I hadn't even considered when I was committing my ideas to paper. They are even apt to tell me when parts of my novel sound "cheesy" (Hehe, Monta's words not mine).
I count myself lucky to have found a group of hard dedicated writers to help keep me on track. Originally, it was difficult for me to open myself up to other people's judgements. This was probably the case for all of us. But when you know that the people who are evaluating your work have your best interest at heart (and want to see you succeed), that makes it easier to take their comments in stride; and learn from them.
A good critique group grows together, and I think our group has done some growing. Robin's writing has evolved until she has found her niche in writing educational-type picture books. Jim is hammering away at his third installment of TT. Monta has written her first chapter over fifty-two times and has finally settled on a awesome beginning (I think). Ellen has found her grove with the flow of her writing; and Michelle is chilling with a pen and paper in her hand furiously revising her stories while making the most of her bed rest. Okay I'm not sure about that last one. Anyway, my point is, that we know what each person in our group is capable of and we encourage each other to do our best.
I think that is the formula for a good critique group.
I am extremely lucky to be apart of The Peabodies A.K.A The Write 6. I always leave our meetings with a smile on my face (Well, they are a hilarious bunch), and a renewed sense of purpose. I agree wholeheartedly with Ellen that our group is therapeutic. Together, we are kind of like Chicken Soup To The Writer's Soul. I look forward to the day when we are a group of published writers, meeting at the Panera (maybe we will ditch this place when we get money), talking about the latest trends in publishing, and pouring laboriously over each other's newest hit manuscripts. I think that will be a really great day (regardless of whether we change our meeting place or not).