Maybe I'm biased. I spent two years reading slush -- reading stories that were brilliant, almost brilliant, and others in need of some tender loving care. Reading and critiquing buckets of fiction was an amazing education. Consequently, I continue to read and critique fiction (I think I actually read more unpublished fiction than not). Here's why:
- Critiquing showed me common pitfalls to avoid. If I read something and wrinkled my nose, I knew I didn't want to duplicate that. Some of the pet peeves I hear agents and authors talk about make perfect sense after reading so many stories (reflective surfaces for description, anyone?).
- Critiquing showed me my strengths. Some aspects of writing came easy to me, others didn't. When I read only published works, I'd assume that everyone found X easy, and that the fact I struggled with Y wasn't normal. Truth is, all writers seem to come to this with strengths and weaknesses.
- Critiquing showed me my weaknesses. On the flip side, if I read something with lyrical description, I'd pause and think Wow, I need to learn how to do that. Discovering what works and what doesn't in a manuscript gave me ideas on how to improve my own writing.
Which brings us to Critique Secret #3: Critiquing others is really a self-interested endeavor. It helps you, too. If you don't have a slush pile to volunteer at, sign up for Critters. Every week, you'll have the opportunity to critique a number of stories, help others out, and strengthen your own writing skills.