Q: Do you use critique groups or other resources to polish your writing?
A: I’ve experienced a lot of different critique arrangements over time. When I was an undergrad, I started getting a group of people whose work I admired together outside of class to read, write and encourage each other with feedback for each others’ work. I have an MFA in Fiction from George Mason University, so I’ve also experienced a few dynamics when it comes to critiquing and being critiqued by mentors, professors, classmates and peers. I’m thankful for all of those experiences, because they really taught me how to take constructive criticism, disconnect the personal from the work, and offer clear, concise feedback in return. I’m not entirely comfortable with having twenty or thirty people involved in the early stages of a draft, though. It can be too much to synthesize when you have that many opinions to go through.
Now, I have a group of 3-4 people I tend to run work by for feedback once I get a first draft finished. These are people I’ve met at some point during my writing journey, either when I was getting my degree or from interactions in writing communities and retreats, and who write a diverse set of things. I’ve actually found it’s really helpful to have someone who doesn’t normally read or write speculative fiction take a look at a draft — they’ll see things that reviewers who are familiar with SF/F won’t, and often what they respond to is surprising. So I tend to send things to a few people I trust, and then see where the areas of overlap are when I move to editing.
I also love reading and responding to work, too. Reciprocating feedback is exciting. It helps me feel intimately connected to my personal writing community and recharges me on days when I’m having a hard time interacting with my own stories.