Critique Groups. Some Love ‘Em, Others Hate ‘Em.
Me? I LOVE my group.
I began with limited time, so I figured an online group would be my best choice. I put up a short story. Man. Talk about harsh. I cried.
But then I took a step back. I read the comments again. After bandaging my ego and my muse, I began to see a pattern.
One could be put in the ‘spiteful and unhelpful’ category.
Another tried really hard to be nice, and everything they said was true. My writing wasn’t anywhere near being up to snuff.
Boy, that hurt.
I took my story down, rewrote it, worked on something else, came back for another edit, then posted it again.
This time, though I’d critiqued about 15 other works (short stories or chapters), I only received 4 critiques back.
Three of them pointed out glaring issues I still had in my writing. The fourth loved it, but couldn’t say why.
After another round of double-fudge-chocolate chip-brownies, I took it down and stuffed it away and worked on something else.
By the time I was ready for another critique group, I’d heard good things about trying a local one. I attended a few meetings of general groups.
In one, we brought ten pages of a work-in-progress with copies for other people. Then, we read our pages out loud in front of everyone. They shouted comments, some wrote them on their copies, and then I got all the copies back.
I didn’t learn much.
First of all, I couldn’t critique very well trying to listen to someone read their prose. Second, I don’t do literary. I just don’t ‘get’ it very well. So I didn’t have much to offer.
Second, I’m a speed reader. Even when I critique and edit. My brain works like that. I had read the person’s ten pages and marked my thoughts in red pen by the time they started reading page three.
Third, I found the copies I got back had comments such as, “I don’t like this word.” Or “Great job.” Not very helpful.
By the time the next meeting came around and I had the next 10 pages to read, everyone had forgotten my story. They’d only heard me read it once. They didn’t remember if I’d introduced character A already, or if Character B had done such and such. And to top it off, I didn’t remember their stories either.
After a few meetings where I didn’t really connect with anyone, I stopped going. But I kept writing. Got a novel done and knew it needed help. Kept reading how-to books and trying to improve.
Then I talked to an author on-line and she told me about her wonderful critique group. It was local. They met every 2 weeks, but they sent their chapters (around 15 pages but not strict requirements) in advance. At their leisure, the members read and edited, then when they got together, the group took turns with each person’s chapter. The author got to hear everyone’s opinion at the same time, AND heavily edited paper copies of the critiques. Because the members had the chapters in advance, they could read them as fast or slow, or as many times, as they needed to give an in-depth critique.
So, I looked around locally. At this time, I was writing fantasy, a slight blend of traditional with urban pacing (fast).
I didn’t find anything other than the read-out-loud experience I’d had before. I tried more online groups. While there was a slight benefit, it didn’t ‘feel’ right.
Desperate for one-on-one face time with other authors, I found Meetup.com in early 2007. It’s a site for meetups of all types—play dates, specific and general interests. I gathered my courage and started a group.
I scheduled the first meeting for 3 weeks out, terrified no one would become a member, and no one would come.
At our first meeting, there were 14 of us. We had literary writers and genre writers. The funny thing was, all 8 of the genre writers wrote some form of Fantasy or Science Fiction. Guess we have the hardest time finding critique partners.
When summer came, things were a bit touch and go. By fall, we decided to split into two different groups. My group became Speculative Fiction only. Over the years, we’ve had members come and go. Some have been great, but needs changed. Others just didn’t fit.
Currently, we have 7 people. In my experience and opinion, 6-8 is the perfect number. Some of us have been there from the very beginning, two of our members have been there less than a year. But we all fit just right.
We also meet the first Saturday of each month for ‘write-ins’. These started the first year some of us tried Nano, and have devolved into plotting, brainstorming and gossip sessions.
It leaves us free to concentrate on the work during the meetings, when we know we get to gab on the Saturday.
It also pushes everyone to write. Each member is required to submit a chapter for each bi-monthly meeting. Now, sure, sometimes life comes up. But, it’s a kick in the pants to sit down and type.
Do you like critique groups? What is the best benefit you get out of them?