Monday, September 5, 2016

Critique Group: How Mine Works

A popular post from April 2012

by Annette Lyon

Some time ago, I addressed this topic (you can read that post HERE), but things have changed, and the question has popped up a few times recently, so I thought it worth addressing again.

My critique group currently has seven members, but rarely can all of us meet at the same time. So we typically have weekly meetings, rotating between three member homes in three cities, if at least three of us can attend. We usually get four or five. We try to arrange weekly meetings, so if (or, rather, when) some can't attend, it's okay; another meeting is coming around the corner.

Everyone brings a scene or chapter (6-8 pages typically, but sometimes more or less) and a copy for everyone. Each writer reads their pages aloud while we all take notes on our copies. Then each person goes around the table with 2-3 minutes of their critique. Sometimes we end up with discussions where we figure out how to fix something, disagree on a point, whatever. Normally, one person's piece takes about 30 minutes.

Some groups are really strict with "shop talk," but we know that that's a big part of getting together—no one gets this weird writing thing like other writers. So we let ourselves have about 30 minutes upfront for chit chat before buckling down. (Not that we don't get silly and chatty in between . . .)

We meet at 7:00 or 7:30, depending on schedules, and try to be done around 10:30 or so.

Treats are optional, but welcome.

Before we were all published and had deadlines, we read entire manuscripts this way, but times have changed. No way can we get through entire manuscripts before submission. Now we skip around, bringing parts we're struggling with or want to be sure we're getting right. Beginnings almost always show up. Sometimes, when we're getting ready to submit something, members will swap full manuscripts for critiques.

We all started out as newbies but with serious dedication. As a few dropped off or moved out, we brought in people who already had higher skill levels, since we'd grown as well.

In my opinion, a group works best if the members are roughly on the same skill level. If they aren't, those behind can't really contribute in a way that's valuable (their feedback isn't helpful, as they don't know enough). On the flip side, a member way ahead of others won't get value from those who aren't as far along the writing path. Plus, their feedback may be more than those starting out are ready for; it could be too harsh or simply not understandable. The way I see it, a slight variation is skill level is fine, but not a big one.

You'll likely find members who have varying strengths, which I've found useful. One person may be extra good at character motivation, another at showing, another at pacing, and yet another at conflict. A spectrum of strengths will raise everyone's game.

When looking for people to create a group, you'll want personality compatibility as well as dedication. If someone is a killer writer but never shows up (or regularly comes an hour late), doesn't write (so their skills lag behind everyone else's), and so on, there's not much point in having them in the group.

Some groups are big with sticking with a single genre, but we're all over the place, from middle grade to women's fiction, romance to horror, memoir to dystopian. As long as everyone is well-read and has a clue about how other genres work, having many shouldn't be a problem. I do know of some groups that specialize in specific genres, and imagine that may have its own advantages, but mixing genres has never been an issue for us.

Have critique group tips of your own? Share them in the comments!


Karlene said...

This is how my group works too, but we only meet once a month. There are 7 of us. Most of us write in middle grade or YA, but sometimes we bring other genres too. We've been meeting for years and it's great motivation.

Donna K. Weaver said...

I love my online group, and I'm really excited to meet several of them in person at Storymaker. They've taught me tons, and I hope that I can now contribute more to them.

Rachelle said...

Thanks for the tips! I've been part of an online critique group for about 5 years that has helped a ton, but I'm ready for an in-person group. Hopefully the stars will align and I can get one set up.

Heather B. Moore said...

Great post. I think it's each member's responsibility to continually improve craft. So if you are feeling "behind" in your critique group, it's time to take a workshop, read some writing books, and do more writing yourself :-)

Julie Daines said...

My critique group has the best of both worlds. We meet in person once a month, then two weeks later we have an online meeting where we each post our work for critique in

This way we get to cover twice the material than we would in an only once-a-month group. We get in-depth feedback from the online posts, and great discussion feedback from the in-person meetings.

Ann said...

I want to start a writing critique group in a writer's group I've started. Thank you for the ideas!