Why I Love My Critique Group
by Katrina Shawver
I know without a doubt that my debut book, Henry: A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America, would not exist in its present form without my writing critique group.
Wendy, Sande, Becky, and I met monthly for three years to share draft sections of our evolving stories. We offered each other constructive feedback, ideas, and encouragement. We were an unlikely group, as many critique groups come together based on a common genre, be it memoir, fiction, sci-fi, or other. Instead, we came together based on geography and the shared desire for constructive feedback on our writing. We all wanted to join a critique group and we all lived in the East Valley. It worked. That we became good friends was an unexpected bonus. Today we still meet monthly, even if we do not have writing to share.
I recently published a historical biography of a Polish Catholic who survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald during World War II. My background in newspaper writing and blogging means I am great at 500- to 800-word pieces, but incredibly challenged at churning out a plotted, cohesive, and engaging 80,000-word manuscript. My critique group helped me alternate the harshest stories with lighter ones, identified key confusions and inconsistencies, and fell in love with Henry, my main character. They helped mold the book into what it is today and validated both my writing and the belief that this story must be told.
Wendy writes murder mysteries and also published the nonfiction book, My Six-Year-Old Inner Artist, Everyone Has One! with its companion workbook during our time together. Her artistic talent clearly helps her writing shine. She paints beautiful imagery through her word art with every scene she writes in a way I envy. The depth of her characters, clarity of details, and punch of each chapter ending grew through our feedback. As she plans a permanent move to Florida, we remain connected through email.
Sande writes about suicide prevention, and published the resource, We Need to Talk about Suicide. Sande and I still joke that we both write on the “cheerful topics” of concentration camps and suicide. She brings a gut honesty and the passion of her 25 years in the field of suicide prevention to her writing. Sande was the first in our group to become a published author and hold her book in her hands. We raised a toast to her success. Today, she is near completion of two additional books. We stood by her as her husband endured a complicated, expensive, and lengthy course of treatment for cancer.
Becky is our free spirit with a heart of gold and a passion for meditation and finding her inner peace. We tell her every month that she is crazy not to be writing constantly. The stories that flow through her pen comprise beautiful, honest writing. She’s fun. During our time together, she attended writing retreats in Bali and Nepal, and published several articles in an online publication. While her time is now focused on running a family business and attending graduate school, we still tell her she should never stop writing and will always count her as an essential member of our group.
I know from experience that an effective critique group is essential to developing an engaging read. The members of a quality critique group are both a writer’s earliest beta readers, most critical editors, and strongest encouragers. It is also essential to “click” in personality and agree on shared group goals and guidelines. For us, it is less important that we write on similar topics. Our success lies in being both writers and critical readers. Sometimes writing is best critiqued from the more distant perspective a reader might have. Thank you to Wendy, Sande, and Becky for your trusted guidance, honest feedback, and encouragement. I count each of you as my friends for life.
Katrina Shawver is the author of Henry, A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America, officially released on November 1, 2017. The book is published through Koehler Books and is available in hardback, paperback, and ebook formats on most book sites worldwide. Visit KatrinaShawver.com where she blogs regularly.