Sunday, August 21, 2016

Critique Groups

We belong to a critique group which has been around for well over twenty years. It is one of the main reasons we were able to complete our books. They are our first-level resource during the writing of our books.

Our group consists of professional writers. Nearly all are published, most multi-published. We have an established procedure.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
Expenditure of time
We are all busy, whether with a day job, promoting previous books, or meeting editor or publisher deadlines. Writers are busy people. Critique group meetings may intrude on the time you have set aside to write, but the offset may be a savings in rewriting time.

Receiving criticism
You’ve poured your heart and soul into your writing. Now you’re not sure how good, or as bad, it is. No one likes criticism. Can you accept criticism of your work without being defensive? If you are in the right group, mutual respect should be the rule.

Your ego may suffer
Your ego may be a bit fragile. If so, you may not want to hear the truth about your work. The right group will tell you about the good things as well as those areas which need improvement.

Fear of stolen ideas
This seems to be a major concern of some writers. If it is your concern, you may want to carefully consider joining a group. But you might look for a trusted critique partner and trade manuscripts

Know-it-all member
As W. Somerset Maugham said, “There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
Ernest Hemmingway said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
If the group has a dominant know-it-all, it’s not a group. It’s a class with a dictator teacher. In writing, almost anything can be good, and any rule can be broken under the right circumstances. If you encounter this situation, find a different group.

Dominating or needy member
Run like crazy or be prepared to set and enforce firm limits.

WHAT TO EXPECT
Analysis
Character, plot, story structure, mechanics, etc.

Line Editing
Spelling, grammar, sentence structure, etc.

Suggestions
For improvements, for better construction, etc.

YOUR RESPONSE
Listen carefully
Analyze each suggestion for change
Clarify your intentions and ask for additional suggestions
Incorporate those suggestions you feel are right for your work

WHEN YOU ARE THE CRITIC
Read objectively. Recognize the writer’s voice. Reject the temptation to rewrite in your voice.
Recognize your own strengths and weaknesses and make suggestions from your strengths.
Know the genres you are comfortable with, and reject any group which accepts those genres you are uncomfortable with.
Don’t take offense if your suggestions are not accepted.
Give honest feedback, both positive and negative.

GROUP CONSIDERATIONS
The size of the group and the amount of time required for each meeting
How often the group meets, the day of the week, and the time
How much material will be expected
What kinds of writers are in the group
Genres to be reviewed
Number of pages required per meeting
The group’s goals

OUR GROUP
Meets every week except holidays and when many in the group are on vacation
Each attendee brings one chapter of no more than ten pages, double-spaced, twelve-point serif font with enough copies so each attendee will have one.
Each writer with material to be critiqued passes out copies to all attendees.
Someone other than the writer reads the chapter aloud. This is very important since the writer can hear where the reader is confused or hesitates.
Each person uses a red pen to mark up their copy.
Major issues are discussed briefly before the copies are returned to the author.
Once all material has been critiqued, the group enjoys a snack and catches up on everyone’s news.
Nearly all participants are published authors.
We recognize each writer’s unique abilities.
The group’s goal is to see all members successfully published.
We emphasize the positive and encourage each other. We also share information about contests, publishers, editors, marketing, conferences, etc.
The author always owns the material and makes the final decision about which suggestions to accept and which to reject.

FINDING A GROUP
Ask local authors about groups they belong to.
Take a writing class at adult education or a local junior college. (Our group started as a college writing class.)
Mention your desire to find a group on your social media groups.
Meet authors at conferences and ask them about groups.
Some groups are online, so even if you don’t live in an area with other authors, you may be able to locate a group or partner online.

I have found our critique group one of the most valuable contributors to our being published and to the quality of our books. I recommend finding one you trust and listening to their suggestions.


7 comments:

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

I've been in the same group for about 30 years--the members have changed over the years, but I learned more about writing from my critique group than from any other source. I expect them to find errors and make suggestions, if they didn't I wouldn't waste my time going.

Lorna Collins - said...

I agree, Marilyn. We'd never have published our first book--or any of the subsequent ones--without our group.

John M. Wills said...

Without objective feedback the writer can't expect to approve.

Amy Bennett said...

I wish I had a critique group! Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of rural life is not being very close to anyone and not having many writers to connect with in real life. I have to rely on my beta readers (who have the credentials to critique, even though they are not writers themselves) to give me feedback. I guess they're doing a good job!

Lorna Collins - said...

Amy, in the digital age, it is possible to find critique partners online. A couple of my friends have exchanged email critiques for years. Beta readers are also invaluable. Whatever you are doing, keep it up!

Janet Walters said...

Like Marilyn, I've been in the same group for twenty eight years. Some of the people have dropped out and other people have joined. We've become like sisters in many ways. We write all kind of romance and other genres. Listening to what they're saying always makes the stories stronger.

Beryl Reichenberg said...

The local NightWriter's group has critique groups that meet separately and two others at monthly meetings there are pre-program groups for all members run by two members who are accomplished writers. I find these particularly helpful even if they are not focused on children's books. You can always learn something. Beryl