I have read a few blogs recently bullying the critique group. Well, this is a no bullying zone, so let's all be nice. (But not too nice, or we'll be proliferating one of the complaints about critique groups.)
I was stuck before I found a critique group. I thought I had edited to perfection. I knew the stories weren't the best I had ever read, but I didn't know how to take things up a level. My first critiques felt like Superman came and picked my truck out of the landslide. I saw my story from a whole new perspective. And I wasn't stuck anymore.
The process catches mistakes you became blind too. One pointed out my tense was wrong in the first sentence. I took a drink of water just so I could spray it out of my mouth in shock. How had I missed an obvious error? Goes to show you need a fresh set of eyes.
Critique groups help you let go. You gave birth to two beautiful sentences you love, but they say the same thing. Critique gives you permission to throw away that sentence you don't need.
"Sally ripped off her doll's head.
A group of readers will see unique pictures in your words. They will help you leave room for the illustrator. "You described too much. I thought Eddie was floating with a bunch of balloons, but then you described a pink-polka dotted kite with red ribbons."
Why Critique Groups get Bullied
Critiquers come with a variety of experience, y'know like me with around zero. Writers at different levels can still help one another. My newbie critiques mainly reflect my application of the "rules" and my schoolmarmly editing. I can help with a little humor, and I hope the writer gets at least one good tidbit.
Sometimes submissions have significant grammar and spelling issues. With my corporate background I have to edit first; I was trained to not trust things with errors. Unfortunately, that means I am not open to really hearing the story until it is corrected. You should always share your best work.
You can get differing opinions. One may say "scratch the dragon and focus on the boy" and the other say "scratch the boy and focus on the dragon." This is frustrating, but the message is clear: you need to focus the story somewhere. You are the writer. You get to pick.
At the end of the day you don't have to change anything about your manuscript you don't want to. Of course you will change some things, because you want your story to be the best it can be. Absorb the critique, and let it flow back out through your own voice.
Love 'em? Hate 'em? Please share your critique group experiences in the comments.