Writing is a lonely business. A critique group is the writer’s way to connect to others, to get feedback and discuss your characters as if they were real, without your sanity being questioned.
It takes courage to bring your manuscript to other people’s attention, even more so to receive their critiques with an open mind, without taking them as a personal attack and becoming defensive.
Yes, you love your story and you want everybody to love it too. But it’s rare the story that cannot be improved in a rewrite. The comments of other writers that see your work for the first time and come to it from different perspectives could be an invaluable help in creating a stronger piece.
This does not mean you must take all the advice offered. In fact, it may be impossible to do so, because sometimes the changes suggested by different members contradict each other. But if the majority agrees on some point, you may want to reconsider and change that particular part.
A negative critique can be overwhelming, especially for new writers. For me, the best critique is one that is balanced, one that offers both a positive evaluation and a carefully worded statement of the work weaknesses.
I like positive comments not only because I need praise, who doesn’t?, but because it is as important for me to know what is working in my story than what it’s not. A critique that only states what doesn’t work let me wondering whether there is anything at all I should leave as is, or, even worse, whether it’s worth to tell this story in the first place.
That is why I do not take a manuscript to be critiqued until I have a detailed outline and I know where I’m going with it. Too many opinions, especially negative ones, when the story is still a seed in my mind will break it for me. I take it when I have a first draft and want other people’s opinions to consider and incorporate, if I think them appropriate, in my next draft.
On the other extreme, if you believe your story is perfect as it is, don’t bring it to a critique group, as you will probably resent any suggestions for change. If you think it is ready, send it to an agent/publisher instead.
Carmen Ferreiro Esteban