Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Creating a Critique Group

Getting together with a group of writers can be professionally and emotionally rewarding. If you can’t find a critique group, you might consider starting one of your own. 

The Porterville Writer’s Workshop has existed for decades in a variety of forms, and although we recognize that our experiences may not be appropriate for you, this is how our group was formed and how it continues today. Please take what works for you and ignore the rest.

We began as a creative writing class at our local community college which is a good place to find writers when you start your group. You could also write a letter to the editor asking if anyone is interested in a critique group or ask your local librarian to post a message. Once you have interested writers, you can begin.
1.      Select a leader. The key here is leader not dictator. Someone needs to set a cooperative and nurturing environment. Writers should feel they are being heard and helped. 

2.      Set a specific time agreed upon by the members and try to be consistent.

3.      Encourage fiction and nonfiction work in many genres.

4.      Keep the group small. We have seven members, five of whom have been published. Everyone is working on a novel so if each of us reads a chapter that takes several hours. If your group becomes too large, you might want to split into two or more groups based on individual preferences.

5.      Ask writers to make a copy of their work for each member. Small corrections like punctuation can be written on the manuscript and not discussed. Oral comments should be limited to asking questions, discussing possible changes, and most importantly, praise. 

6.      Discourage members from talking about what they are going to write. Often by discussing the work, the need to communicate is fulfilled and nothing is written.

7.      Discourage members from apologizing for their work. Let the writing speak for itself.

8.      Encourage members to come to the meeting to critique even if they don’t have anything to read. 

9.      When new writers want to join, we invite them to the first meeting at the beginning of the month, but not the other three weekly meetings. We don’t want to be exclusive, but we do want to make certain any addition to our group is a serious writer. Often we invite the new writer to become a regular member.

1    Agree that whatever comments are made by individuals, the writer is free to take what he/she wants and ignore the rest.

Finding a critique group is almost like trying to find a spouse, but when you find the right one, it’s wonderful. Every Wednesday I meet with my fellow writers and we share our work, our laughter and our friendship. 

--Shirley Hickman


Julie Luek said...

I appreciate these suggestions-- very timely. I will be meeting with two other women, for the first time, after the holidays. I'm not sure where it will lead yet, but if it's a critique group, I will surely employ the suggestions.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I belong to Shirley's critique group and it is invaluable to me. I consider the members to be my first editors.

Sunny Frazier said...

I've been kicked out of three critique groups for being too opinionated and urging authors to actually send their work out. Each time, my career has soared upward. To my knowledge, nobody in these groups have gone on to publish anything. So, while I think it's nice to do little social get-togethers, I wonder if the security of being in a group and not ruffling any feathers holds writers back.

Also, I would not want to be in a group where nobody has published. That's like the blind leading the blind.

Billie Johnson said...

I am a big proponent of writer critique groups, with a couple of caveats. The group needs to be professional without being mean, and supportive without being a whitewash. A tricky combination.

I had the good fortune to stumble into a fabulous group like Shirely did, via an evening class at Pasadena City College. 8-10 of us went on after the class ended to form our own group. Our leader was a published writer with many books to her credit, but the rest of us were rookies as novelists, though we had some varied writing experiences.

The group met for almost 10 years before we began to go our separate ways. I started OTP, another author got lots of book contracts and became too busy to stay in the group (Diane Noble...she has dozens of books in print now, primarily targeted to the Christian market, but very enjoyable to all IMO), another woman got a writing position with a famous screenplay writer, (Robert Towne of Chinatown fame) another man became a professional editor, and on and on. All the charter members of this group and many of the ones who joined later went pro in the biz at some level!

When I review manuscripts, I often think I can tell who was in a group and who wasn't. I've asked a few times and found that my guess was on target.

One thing I especially enjoyed about the group was that it gave me a deadline to turn out some pages to read to the class.

Groups may not be for everyone, but I have always been delighted and grateful that I lucked into mine!

Billie Johnson

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

In Shirley's group all but one are published in one form or another. Of course I'm one of the published ones. If they didn't tell me what was wrong with what I read I wouldn't bother going.

Beryl Reichenberg said...

I find that my critique group for kidlit invaluable. Not only that, but we have become good friends. Sharing ideas, commenting on other's work, getting feedback for my own writing is all part of the creative process. I appreciate reading the guidelines in your post. Thanks, Beryl