Monday, February 17, 2014

4 Things I Love About My Writing Critique Group

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at
As I write this, snow is swirling around my humble mountain home. It's pristine and gorgeous, but I hope it clears up by this afternoon, because I'm heading into town for one of the brightest spots in my month--a meeting of my critique group. I'm determined not to let a little snow deter me from one of my favorite activities.

We've written before (like here, here, and here) about the value of critique groups and why any writer, aspiring or veteran, should try to connect with one. Today I want to go a little deeper and figure out exactly why my particular group works as well as it does.

We're consistent. We've landed on a process that works for us. About a week before our monthly meeting, we each e-mail our work to the rest of the group, and we come to the meeting with our critiques prepared. During the meeting, we read each piece aloud and then offer our feedback to the author. We also share ideas for publication, new markets, contest and conference info. Each writer knows what to expect, and what's expected of her.

We're committed. Consistency helps us stay committed. We meet once a month and do our level best to be there. Because our group is not large, we feel the absence of even one member. Life happens, we travel, we get sick, we get busy at work, and no one can make it to every meeting, every single month. We get that. But we do our best to be there, and those who are absent try to get the critiques done anyway, and send their feedback to the writer outside of the meeting. There's an overriding message of "This matters. This is worth doing."

We're like-minded. That's not to say we're all alike--where's the fun, or the benefit, in that? Some of us write fiction, some nonfiction, some both, and we've even had a poet or two. Some write to entertain, some to instruct, some for adults, some for YA, and some are polishing spoken-word pieces. In many ways, we're a diverse bunch. When I say we're like-minded, I mean that we write from a similar worldview. In our case, we're all women and we're all Christians, which affects the kinds of things we write, the feedback we deliver, and the way we deliver it. We hold to certain ground rules concerning mutual respect, use of language, and choice of topic matter that unite us and make our group a safe place to open up. Our goal is to encourage and motivate, while also being honest and authentic. We aim to be gracious both about giving criticism and accepting it.

Your group may look entirely different from mine. You may thrive on more unvarnished feedback, a more diverse group, and wholly different language and subject matter parameters. That's not important. The point is to find your "tribe," other writers with whom you feel comfortable as individuals, even while saying uncomfortable things about each other's work.

We're focused. At our monthly meeting, we understand that we're there to work. Sure, we're friends, and we take some time catch up on what's happening in our lives. But we don't (usually) let the meeting turn into a total gabfest. Time is precious, and we understand that we've gathered together for a reason.

We're fun! (Okay, so that makes five things, not four. Consider this a bonus.) We work hard, but it's not sheer drudgery. We laugh a lot, and I always leave the meeting feeling encouraged and refreshed, eager to get back to my desk and start writing again. After all, isn't that the whole point?

There are plenty of other reasons why our group succeeds as it does (an ample supply of jellybeans,  for example), but IMO these are the core ingredients in the secret sauce.

Do you participate in a critique group? If so, what makes your group tick?

1 comment:

Mary Jane Honegger said...

You are all lucky to have found each other. How did that happen? I was recently invited to join a new group that is forming, but when they asked who was going to bring the wine, I realized it wasn't for me. Not that I don't drink wine, but I am looking for a group that is productive rather than social.