By Mark Meier
One of the most important things an aspiring writer should search out is a local critique group. It’s a bit of advice I’ve given over and over again. Sure, you can learn a lot from online groups. Web sites can give you all sorts of hints and tips. Classes can teach you many things. None of that is a substitute for a critique group where you meet face to face and look over specific passages. “How good do I have to be to skip that?” In my opinion, NEVER! No matter how good you get, there’s always something to learn about the changing industry of publishing. Even the language changes, as does the use of words. One recent example in my critique group is “cross legged.” Or is it “crosslegged?” “Cross-legged?” One of our members is a retired English teacher who told us the trend is toward leaving out the hyphen and pushing the words together. Not that any of them is necessarily wrong, only that the tendency is toward “crosslegged.” Which my spell checker keeps flagging. Oh, like it’s never flagged a real word before! Another factor of never dropping out is that a neophyte might have a suggestion that will get a veteran writer to step up their game. That’s happened to me. “If you make this one change . . . .” And he was right. Don’t forget about paying it forward, too. I’ve picked up so much help from the various groups I’ve been a member of that I feel a certain responsibility to pass on what I’ve learned. While I’m not exactly a “new” writer, I have a long way to go and want to help those just getting into the game. I don’t want to be “that guy” who just takes, takes, and takes some more without helping anyone. There is, however, a time to shuck off a group that’s not right. Most writers have seen members who only want to be told how good they are, “and don’t you DARE tell me it can be better!” That’s what my first group was like. If there’s not a group near you, perhaps you need to start your own critique group. My first group was the “ain’t I great” kind of group for years before we started getting more skilled (More-skilled? Moreskilled? LOL!) members. We’d get together once or twice each month, pat ourselves on the back, and meet again for the same reason. My main group took more than a decade to build. It’s still building. We’re all getting better. That’s the nature of things. We’ve had new members who were the “pat on the back” types, and they lasted one or two meetings before they stopped coming. Don’t get bogged down in that kind of group. I’m certainly no Dickens, and probably won’t ever be in that same ballpark. I just know I’m going to get better. You will too.