Like Iron Sharpening Iron: The Power of Critique Groups

My hand trembled the first time I distributed my one-page poem to my critique group. The reader to my right launched into the first stanza with gentle enthusiasm. A strange feeling came over me when I heard my words tumble out of her lips. My poem described a childhood memory and while she read, I felt overcome with sentiment. A tear slid down my cheek. Embarrassed, I lowered my head, fumbled through my purse for a Kleenex, and hoped no one noticed. Only one hundred twenty words, the last line came quickly.

Then, the members of the group picked up their pens and began scribbling comments. I squirmed in my seat and wished I were somewhere far away, anywhere but here. What made me think I could ever write? I tried not to make eye contact with these seasoned writers and dreaded their remarks.

One by one each member finished and smiled in my direction. The leader signaled the person on my left to begin. He looked me directly in the eye. “A good poem takes the reader to a new place, and you have succeeded to do that here.”

I’ll never forget those words. Relief washed over me from my head to my feet. As each member continued to share their reactions to my work, I discovered something I didn’t know. I am a writer after all.

I have participated in Word Weavers critique groups since 2013. Over the years this community of writers has greatly influenced me. When writers share their work with others, they learn how to better communicate with an audience. Mistakes can be caught through the process of hearing someone else read your work aloud. We refer to this as a “cold read.” The quiet time after the reading gives each member an opportunity to evaluate the degree to which the author achieved his or her purpose. The final part of the critique involves verbal suggestions for improvement, but not at the risk of discouraging the author.

The “sandwich method” of layering criticism between two compliments nourishes a writer’s growth. I can testify to the effectiveness, because over the years I have published numerous poems, an article for a children’s magazine, and two children’s chapter books. Fallen Leaves is the title of the first poem I ever submitted for critique.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17 ) This verse applies to critique groups. Writers become more efficient through interactions with other writers. Most authors reference those who have influenced their work in the acknowledgements section of their books.

Word Weavers began in the Orlando area in 1997. Their mission is to help members find their unique voice and raise their writing to a publishable level. This is accomplished through Christian community, critiques, and conferences. Word Weavers offers in-person and online groups.

If you live in the Orlando area, stop by our booth at the Longwood Arts Festival this weekend. Eight members of Orlando Word Weavers will be selling and signing their books. If you are a writer, we’d love to meet you and encourage you on your writing journey.

Author: debbieburton.blog

Debbie Burton is a children's author and award winning poet. Her books, "Buddy the Beagle on Blueberry Street" and "Return to Blueberry Street" (Elk Lake) are available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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