Last week I wrote about how getting feedback on your work through a critiquing group can help improve your writing. And that’s important. But critiquing groups actually help your writing even more because they allow you to critique other writers. This means you really have to think about all aspects of good writing: Is the main character believable? Does the dialogue sound authentic and help move the story along? Is there tension throughout the story? What is the role of setting in the story and does it achieve its goals? Is the ending satisfying? Is there a good hook in the beginning? Does the tone fit the story?

It is so much easier to notice these elements in someone else’s writing than it is in our own – that’s because we are consumed by our story and what we want it to say. New writers, especially, have this problem, though it’s not limited to only the newbies. Critiquing another person’s writing lets us see how these elements work in a story and whether the author has used them well. Then, we can go back to our own work with more distance to see how they work in our story. For instance, you might find that the writer you are critiquing spent too much time and gave too many details about a boating accident, which really was not that important and slowed down the story at a crucial point. Now, you go back to your own story and see how you spent five paragraphs describing how your protagonist prepared her garden for the spring planting. All those details on composting, tilling, temperature of the soil, PH balance, and oh, so much more. You have all this information – and isn’t it really good information! – you want to share because you are an avid gardener, but now you see that just because all those details fascinate you, they are unnecessary (and even a problem) in your story. Think Moby Dick!

The more adept you become critiquing other people’s writing, the more adept you become at critiquing your own – your skills will grow over time. That doesn’t mean you become an expert and don’t need feedback from others. Your primary focus will always be telling the story, and it’s easy to get sidetracked by that focus instead of noticing your antagonist was driving a rusty orange VW Vanagon in chapter two, but four chapters later is peeling about in a 1977 green Ford Ranchero. That’s what makes critiquing groups so useful – everyone in them needs each other!