Every writer gets the notion — from college, from movies, from the Series of Tubes — that they should be in a critique group.
This notion is seven separate types of wrong.
It’s time for critique groups to go the way of the rotary phone — to make way for something better, faster and stronger.
Peoples of the interwebs: critique groups are obsolete
A critique group is useful for certain things:
(a) university professors who want students to break into groups and leave him alone for the next 45 minutes,
(b) writers who really, really like to read their work aloud,
(c) literary snobs who like to say silly pretentious things about the work of others, and
(d) happy writers who like to socialize with fellow writers and talk smack about the craft while drinking bourbon.
Sidenote: Yes, your particular critique group is wonderful, and you couldn’t live without it. No worries. I’m not driving to your house with the Anti-Critique Group Secret Police to disband it or anything. Also, your critique group’s amazing bylaws and secret handshakes mitigate all the typical disadvantages of plain old boring critique groups that are not nearly as awesome.
Reason No. 1: Critique groups take far too much time
During college, sure, you’ve got time to sit in a group, read chapters aloud and debate what Susie really meant by having the protagonist drink a bottle of ketchup in Chapter 2.
Once you graduate from college, get a job, get married, buy a house and have little pookies, THERE IS NO TIME for this type of nonsense. Do I have three hours to drive to somebody’s house, listen to chapters read aloud, then talk about what I remember of those words and drive home? No. I have ten flipping minutes to write silly blog posts.
People who write for monies, full time, do not gather around a table to read their text aloud while fellow writers and editors listen carefully and ponder the words. It does not happen.
Reason No. 2: Editing as a group is dangerous and slow
Anything written by a committee will stink up the joint, right? Writing is a solitary act.
Editing is, too. You write a thing, then you give it to an editor.
Typically, there are different levels of editing: at a newspaper, you ship your text to the city editor, who gives it the first whack and focuses on the big picture. Later, the draft goes to the copy desk for a different type of editing, more of a polish and proofing.
Also, editing it best done on a keyboard, or with a red pen. Not out loud in a social group, where peer pressure and weird dynamics can screw up a draft in two seconds flat.
Reason No. 3: Critique groups can’t handle most things we write today
Short stories and novels. That’s what critique groups are really built to handle.
And they do a bad job on novels. Why? Because reading a novel in tiny chunks every week will (a) take forever and (b) turn the focus onto pretty words rather than structure and story. You need to see the entire airplane before you can say, with authority, whether it’ll fly or not. Peeking at tiny pieces of it all year doesn’t work.
Traditional critique groups are bullocks when it comes to editing blog posts, speeches, opeds, screenplays, newspaper stories, magazine features, obituaries and haikus. That’s right, haikus. YOU CAN’T HANDLE THEM.
Reason No. 4: Because I say so
I could put some bullets beneath here, if you want to make it official. Here you go:
Let’s invent something new
Now, there is a place for some kind of thing that’s LIKE a critique group, except better, faster and stronger.
Everybody needs an editor. And the more important a thing is, the more you should hire a professional editor who actually does this stuff for a living. But for a whole bunch of things that we write — including silly blog posts — hiring a pro would be a waste of money and time.
So let’s invent a new Writing Monster that’s better, faster and stronger.
The Writing Monster should be flexible, able to handle the editing of any kind of writing, whether it’s a little blog post, a speech, a short story or a screenplay.
It should also expose people to new ideas and new ways of looking at writing, and inspire us to rip the pages out of stupid pretentious books.
And it should expose us to different types of writers and editors, not just fellow writers who have the same exact skills and writerly prejudices.
The Writer Monster Thing should use this thing we call the Series of Tubes and travel at the speed of light rather than the Speed of Steve’s Subaru as you carpool to Jane’s house for the critique group and hope that she didn’t make that bean salad again.
The Writing Monster should be strong and resilient, living in the cloud and forging connections with writers and editors anywhere, like the Borg‘s hive mind collective.
BTW: Resistance is futile.
The Writing Monster will NOT die because Steve moved to Idaho or Jane discovered that she hates Tyler’s novel and, to be honest, his stinking guts.
Also, the Writing Monster will focus more on short, important things like concepts, pitches and structure. Things that take up less than a page. (Kristen the Lamb is onto something with her Concept Critique Group idea.)
The alternative is spending every week for the next year dissecting Steve’s 125,000-word epic about vampire elves with lightsabers riding dinosaurs and Jane’s memoir about growing up on a potato farm in Idaho.
Now, I have the guts of an idea, and a burning desire to blow up critique groups in an explosion that will make Michael Bay jealous. But that’s a post for another day. So: shoot me your crazy ideas in the comment section.
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Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho
Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.