One of the best things I’ve done in my journey as a writer was to form a local critique group.
There were a couple of groups in the area, loosely affiliated with the Authors of the Flathead, but they weren’t taking new members. I twisted a couple arms and soon we had three regulars. We decided five or six was an optimal number, and over the last decade we’ve gone through a dozen or more in the last few seats. Now we’ve got five regular contributors plus one guy who’s a talented editor but not writing at the moment.
The critique group gives me the regular deadline I need to keep me on task. The members are great at catching the stupid mistakes I can’t see because I’m too close to my work, and are experts at asking pesky questions like “Why not do XYZ instead?” Because we mostly work in different genres – thrillers, YA, women’s fiction, memoir and who-knows-how-to-classify-Nick – they keep me open to possibilities. More than that, they’re a fantastic support group.
But I have learned to take some comments with a grain of salt. If I hear a criticism from one member, maybe that person’s just having a bad hair day, or doesn’t get my particular genre. If several of the members make the same observation, then obviously I’ve got to seriously evaluate their concern.
One danger is the tendency of members to try nudging a WIP in a different direction because of our preconceived ideas of how it should be written. In editing and making suggestions, it’s critical that we not alter the voice and tone of our fellow writers.
It’s what makes us unique.