Hello, blog readers! I’ve been absent for a while, but with this post, I’m back. This month, I’m writing about writing critique groups. I know; I know. It’s been done before. Writers are forever looking for good critique groups, however, and this post writes toward that. I’m starting with the assumption the writer has found a group and has sat down and is ruminating on the answers to the following questions.
1. Are the members getting together to work or to socialize? Which do you prefer? Simple question – do you want to be part of a writers who work and support each other group or part of a writers who hang out to shoot the shit group? Something in between? Some of one, part of the other?
No one can tell you what you’re looking for. You have to figure that out on your own. What suits your personal needs the best? Do you need a group who is going to work with you (and you for them – it goes both ways!) and support you? Or do you need a group of people just to hang out with once a week?
Any good writing group is going to support its memberships on writing goals, discipline, and productivity, and they’re going to be focused and objective in their critiques of one another’s work.
A “bad” writing group can keep any writer, no matter how skilled and otherwise encouraged, from expanding his horizons. I.e., without the proper support, a good writer may become discouraged enough to not follow his dreams. So, another question to ask is: Is the group serious about publication? Are the members serious about their work?
2. The next thing you want to find out is how the group is run. Is there a moderator? Does everyone participate? What counts as active group participation? Does everyone bring work to every meeting? Or does the membership take time to focus on individual writers and projects for a set amount of time?
Along with this is finding out how often the group meets and how long each meeting is expected to take. For example, the group that’s nearest and dearest to my heart meets online every Thursday evening starting at 9pm eastern time. We generally try to be together for two hours. But sometimes we’ll get together earlier than that just to chat, then we’ll do our work, then we’ll chat some more. And there’s always chocolate. Because, you know, chocolate consumed during critique group contains zero calories!
3. Speaking of chocolate. Find out of the group you’re interested in charges any types of fees. Some will charge a fee to help cover the cost of rental space and refreshments and supplies. Some groups meet in libraries and other public spaces, so some of these things aren’t concerns. Be sure to find out so there are no surprises.
4. Is it possible to sit in on a meeting or three before deciding whether you’d like to submit for membership? Any good group will allow this and will support you if you decide they aren’t a good fit. They may even help you find a group where you do fit!
5. Does the group you’re interested in have any rules as to what constitutes “active participation”?* Come to that, what are the group rules? Do you agree with them in whole or in part? What do you dislike about the ones you find disagreeable?
For example, I’ve been on “active hiatus” from my group for almost a year now – I think – because my life got too busy and then I had surgery and had to take a break from everything. I’m still a member, and they keep asking when I’ll be back.
6. Does everyone bring work to meetings or just one member or a few? How does their critiquing process work? How long does each member get to read on a given manuscript?
If the group meets in person, ask if you need to bring photocopies of your work for each member or if they’ll accept e-mail attachments once everyone’s at home (or the next morning) – because photocopying a 300 page manuscript for six people is going to be expensive!
7. What are the rules for giving / accepting critique?
The group I belong to, we call the critiquing process “roasting, toasting, barbecuing.” This is an excellent thing. Getting down to the bare bones of a member’s story – be it a short or a novel – brings much joy and sunshine, and we always look forward to it.
Any critique group may tell you exactly what you don’t what to hear, be that “good” or “bad”. You have to make sure you’re willing and prepared to receive all of the bad along with all of the bad. In my experience, the worst critiques tell me how wonderful I am and how wonderful my writing is. That does none of the membership any good, and it definitely doesn’t do any of the writing any good. The best writing groups have no qualms against ripping a member’s work apart and telling him the truth. In return, the member has thick skin and is able to accept critique without wanting to run the rest of the membership through a food processor.
That doesn’t mean that a critique you don’t agree with won’t ever happen. It always does. But it’s good practice to make notes on everything that person (or those persons) have to say. You might get home later and understand exactly why he made those remarks. Even a critique we don’t like is helpful in many ways.
8. Are any of the members published? Does where, how, and how often matter (to you or to the group)? If the members aren’t published, are they actively seeking publication? Is publication part of their writing goals? Why or why not?
9. Are other members happy to see you and each other? Do they encourage each other in their work? Do they cheer each other’s accomplishments? In other words, is the group positive and happy overall? Do the members get along and support each other? Do they trust each other? These are all very important.
10. Do the members all write in the same genre or different genres? Do you think it matters? In my group, we’re pretty much across the board. We all write different things, have different areas of interest. Our reading habits are also just as varied. This gives us a wide range of perspectives on our work. We all also have our own different skills. We have the grammar nazi, the plot doctor, the character therapist, and so forth.
11. What levels of critique are the members able to provide? What sort of feedback are you looking for? Full edits? Proofreading? Grammar and spelling? Plot? Character development? A good group will provide all of these (because each member should have different strengths and interests).
12. A good group also helps the writer with networking. The membership can connect each other with editors, agents, publishers, and other contacts, as well as contact information for conventions and other events. Your group can become your lifeline.
Are you a member of a writing group? Does it meet online or in person? How did you find it? What about it drew you enough to stay?
Mari Adkins is a fantasy/paranormal fiction writer from a coal mining community in southeastern Kentucky. Mari has lived away from the mountains and lived deep in the mountains. She currently lives in Central Kentucky with her lifepartner and their cat. She is the mother of two young men and is an avid supporter of kidney disease awareness. The mountains, their culture, their superstitions, their particular magics, will always be in her blood.