Finding a critique group is challenging, especially one that’s a good fit. Assuming you want a local group, ask area writers if they have any suggestions, check with bookstores (especially independents) to see if they know of any groups, and search online.
If all this fails or doesn’t find you the right group, you can always start your own. That’s what I did.
Also, in lieu of local groups, consider an online group. Again, do an online search for online critique groups. (There are 44 million matches for the search term.) The benefit of online groups is they don’t have a geographic limit and often don’t have time restrictions.
Last, if you’re in a group that’s not working for you, bow out and find another one. Don’t waste time in the wrong group.
Keep looking for a local group. There may be some, but you just haven’t found them yet. Try bookstores, schools, libraries, and coffee shops—any place where writers hang out. Also, ask every writer you meet if they’re aware of any area critique groups.
Another option is to start your own critique group. It’s not hard. It’s what I did. Again, look online for ideas and recommendations on leading a successful critique group.
Online Critique Groups
As an option, consider an online group. There are many out there. Just do a search. These groups have different goals and various formats, so look them over to find one that’s right for you. And if your first choice doesn’t work, try a different one.
Today’s hot writing advice may prove embarrassing in a few years
I still have the mimeograph handout from high school, from oh so many years ago. The title boasts “50 Substitutes for Said.”
The opening instruction says, “Both color and drama can be added to a story by using other verbs as substitutes for said.” (A poorly written sentence, by the way.) As I recall, this teacher encouraged us to never use said in our writing.
Some of the recommended alternatives for said include blustered, bantered, challenged, directed, emphasized, giggled, implored, insinuated, mimicked, philosophized, revealed, and soothed. (By the way, I keep the list for nostalgic purposes, not for reference.)
In my writing, I can’t imagine using any of these suggestions in place of said. If I did, people would laugh at me and dismiss my work.
Now the trend is to not use alternatives for said. The extreme position is to only use said, even if it’s a question. I can’t bring myself to do that. It just seems wrong to write:
“What do you mean by that?” she said.
It makes me cringe. Plus, encountering said when I expect to read asked, is a speedbump that takes me out of the scene.
Yet, some writing experts instruct writers to do just that, to only use said, even for a question.
I think this minimalist approach is an extreme view, along with being dull. I suspect this will be a short-lived writing trend that will later be dismissed as unimaginative.
Just as we now groan at writers who would write “he blustered” instead of “he said,” we will one day groan at writers who only use said. It’s lazy writing and makes for boring reading.
In the same way that we discern which editing suggestions we need to follow from our critique partners, we need to consider which writing advice makes sense for us and which to ignore.
As for me, I will disregard the advice to only use said.
Write short stories to master the art of fiction writing
May is short story month. I share this news in advance so you can consider how you want to celebrate. You might want to spend the month reading short stories or perhaps focus on writing a few. But regardless, give short stories some consideration in the month of May. Doing so will inform your other writing, whether you write fiction or not.
I know many beginning writers who sit down to write a novel. They have a vision and enthusiasm, but not much else. They start writing but soon give up in frustration. And for the few who do finish, their story isn’t that good.
I’ve often heard that novelists write several bad novels before penning a good one. Those first books serve as training for them to learn what works and doesn’t, to find their voice, and to hone their craft. They need to figure out plot and structure and story arc and character development and dialogue and a slew of other things. And they write several practice books to get there.
Why not write several practice short stories instead?
I took that path. In fact, I focused on flash fiction: short stories with fewer than one thousand words. I experimented with a first-person and third person, present tense and past tense. I even wrote a second-person, present-tense short story—something I’d hate doing for an entire book.
Using short stories, I fine-tuned my dialogue. I worked on intriguing titles, strong openings, and satisfying closes. I practiced “show, don’t tell” and worked on word choice.
I did all this in preparation to one day write a novel. You see, I didn’t want to waste several novels practicing. I used my short stories for that. I got feedback from critique groups, hired tutors, and studied.
Then one day I wrote a piece of flash fiction. It started out as 900 words. But I liked the premise and added to it to produce a 2,500-word short story. I fell in love with the characters and wanted to write more. I did write more, a lot more. By the time I finished my story arc I had a 28,000-word novella. But it needed more. Next, I added two secondary story arcs and the length grew to 46,000 words, enough for a short novel and about perfect for the YA (young adult) genre.
So my 800-word piece of flash fiction grew into a 46,000-word novel.
But the story isn’t over.
Last year, for NaNoWriMo, I wrote a 49,000-word sequel. Then I mapped out a series. I’m ready to start writing books three and four.
Writing short stories prepared me to write novels. And writing fiction helps me write better nonfiction and memoir.