I've been in a peer critique group for the past 2 ½ years. We had all taken writing classes, but we decided to step out on our own and workshop our writing together with no teacher. We all write fiction, though some of us are also journalists, poets and songwriters. It's no exaggeration to say that my first book Pretty Peg got all the way to publication with Harmony Ink thanks to the many loving kicks in the pants my writing group provided. So here are five great reasons to join or start your own peer critique group.
1. Your chair is on fire.
I'm the kind of writer who needs a deadline. Scratch that, I'm the kind of human being who needs a deadline. I thrived in college because the due date for, say, that paper on whole-tone scales in Debussy was an intolerable blinking light. My bathroom is only clean when company is coming. And I have to turn in pages every two weeks to my writing group. There's no way I'd do the actual work of getting my ideas on the page if those pages weren't due. The fact that this group is ongoing – there's no coasting until class is finally over – adds to the pressure.
2. You get great ideas from other writers.
My group is pretty carefully chosen. Some of us knew each other from the same writing workshop, and most of us write speculative fiction. I'm lucky that the other writers in my group have a similar but not identical set of literary influences, and it helps that they're all brilliant. So when my plot bunnies are all in comas, I have three other whole libraries of ideas to call on.
3. People will read your whole book.
I can't stress enough what a boon this is. I took writing classes for years, and they're a fine thing, but in any 6- or 8-week class you're only going to get 2 or 3 chapters workshopped. The class setup is terrific for short story writers, but I needed writing comrades who would be able to provide feedback on my whole plot and on my characters' whole arc.
4. You get to read other fine books in progress.
See #2 – the other writers in my group are brilliant. The benefits I get from exposure to their writing are pretty much innumerable. I get to read some truly sharp and surprising writing before anyone else does. I get ideas for whole new ways to emphasize certain emotions on the page. I get to be on the inside of a range of experiences I have no access to in my real life. And not least, I get the confidence to write better sex scenes! Or I hope to someday.
5. You have a built-in support group.
Times get tough when your plot has all the structural integrity of a bowl of pancake batter, or your story is so cuttingly close to your soul that you can't get clarity, or your real life overwhelms your writing life and smothers it. Your critique partners understand the misery better than anyone in your family or circle of friends. You've been there for them, and they've been there for you. Get matching tattoos. You're bonded for life.