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Beacon Senior News

Critique groups make your writing stronger

Jul 05, 2017 03:51PM ● By Jan Weeks

With self-publishing’s rise in popularity, many writers rush to get their books into print without taking time to make sure their product is the best it can be.

Writers’ critique groups help ensure that writers connect with their readers effectively, and there are many critique groups in the area to help writers improve.

The Colorado West Writers’ Workshop has been around the Grand Valley for 30 years and was started by James Van Pelt, an English teacher at Fruita Monument High School. Though Van Pelt has retired from the group, it’s still going strong. The membership has shifted and changed through the years, yet the primary goal remains the same: to help other writers become the best they can be via positive yet knowledgeable feedback, and through that to become published authors.

A writing teacher myself, I’ve been facilitating the group for the last several years and can credit the feedback I’ve received with allowing me to be both traditionally and self-published. My mystery novel, “Season of Evil, Season of Dreams,” would not have been picked up by a publisher if the group, which included a retired law enforcement person, hadn’t told me what needed to improve.

Even though I’ve self-published books, I want them to be good, not just slapped together. I rely on the group to make sure I’m meeting that goal.

“Although I haven’t had fiction published, I have one novel ready to send out,” said Virginia Jensen, another long-time member and published author of three books on beading techniques. “Its completion depended on those friends and critiquers who helped me see how I was not saying what I thought I was, what I missed, how I could have said it better, how I could improve character, plot, description, atmosphere and so on.”

John Garner has been in the group for only a few months, yet he has already found the feedback to be invaluable.

“Creativity has never been a problem for me,” he said. “And now the group offers me structure, camaraderie and timely feedback on grammar, tips on setting, and spots errors I didn’t see.”

A working group

The Colorado West Writers Workshop is just that—a workshop. It’s not the place for novice writers to learn to write.

Prospective members submit a sample of their writing and each member gives input as to whether the writer will be a good fit for the group.

The writing sample should show ability, but doesn’t have to be perfect.

“I don’t think very many people are ‘born’ writers,” said former critique group member Terri Benson, who has been traditionally published. “You need to work at your craft and hone it. Critique groups can speed that up and save you a lot of grief.”

It’s a fun-loving group, but we focus on the work, not on socializing—until break time, that is.

Marie-Louise Hausermann belonged to the group for seven months, until other demands forced her to quit. Yet her time there taught her a lot about writing, like how hard it is to critique effectively.

“What was most valuable and liberating was the realization I could do away with unnecessary backstory and that every sentence, every paragraph should in some way propel the story forward. I would never attempt to approach an agent or publisher without first exposing my writing to the critical eye of a critique group.”

For more information about Colorado West Writers’ Workshop, contact Jan Weeks at 255-6679.

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