The Writing World and Critique Groups

 

IMG_0174

 

Writers’ Critique Groups

Writing about the new book publishing age, I mentioned the importance of a good critique group to help polish a self-pubbed book. My critique group has been invaluable, so I asked D. Wallace Peach to say a few words about what makes a good writing critique group.

Known to me as Diana, she has published her third book, SunWielder, which I recently reviewed, and has submitted the rest of her Myths of the Mirror Trilogy: Eye of Fire, and Eye of Blind to her publisher. So stay tuned for that sometime in 2015.

Even with an editor and Diana’s exact eye for copywriting, I believe the critique group helped make the final books of the Myths Trilogy even stronger and better.Sunwielder

So here’s what she had to say:

Diana:  “A critique group is different from a support group, though they overlap. My mother is a one-woman support group; she loves everything I’ve written since I was six. And for that reason she’s an awful person to ask for a critique.

Joining a critique group may be one of the smartest steps we can take in our careers as writers. Pointed, honest feedback is essential to learning and refining our craft. But finding the right group is like finding the right psychotherapist; sometimes you have to work at it to get a good fit. You want the truth, but in a way that’s helpful and encourages you to grow.”

Sheron: Cross mom and Aunt Susie off the list.

Diana: “Group Composition

Not all groups are alike. Some are loosey-goosey, others more formally structured. Learn as much as you can about the expectations of a group and be honest with yourself about your needs and the time commitment you’re prepared to make.

A few considerations:

  1. Not everyone in a critique group needs to work in the same genre, but there may certain drawbacks to being the only romance writer is a group of military science-fiction buffs.
  2. Four to five members is ideal, providing sufficient feedback while not overwhelming members with critiques.
  3. A mix of male and female participants is great for garnering different perspectives.
  4. Though some writers may prefer a group with equivalent experience, a mix of new and seasoned members can be extremely rewarding. New writers often bring fresh energy.
  5. If a group experience leaves you discouraged and angry, don’t stay. Groups are supposed to vitalize your love of writing, not drain your enthusiasm.

Structural Norms

How groups are run and structured varies group to group. Some meet face-to-face, others are entirely on-line. In general, guidelines for effective critiquing are the same, but I am a strong proponent of face-to-face feedback where verbal and physical cues (like smiling) augment the words we chose in our critiques. Meeting in person offers an opportunity to elaborate on comments and ask/answer questions.”

Sheron:  I like to look them in the eye when I tell them what needs fixing. Sometimes, they have a reason for the story to be that way. In addition, you should have a rule that all weaponry be left at home.

Diana:  “However a group is structured, there are generally norms related to timing, submissions and how critiques are returned to the authors. The critique group I belong to meets twice a month in person for approximately three hours and a written critique is completed between meetings. This is how we work:

  1. Via email, we distribute our submissions to other group members. Submissions are limited to 20 double space pages (with occasional exceptions).
  2. Group members critique each submission and return it via email to the writer with comments. (Word has a “comment” tool that is very helpful in this regard.)
  3. Prior to the face-to-face meeting, we review our comments so we’re prepared to discuss ideas and answer questions for the author.
  4. Meetings start with a focus on one member’s work. One at a time, readers offer additional feedback and respond to questions. The process repeats itself until all submissions have been discussed. (Set time limits for face-to-face feedback if meetings run over. Don’t skip discussing someone’s work.)Myths of the Mirror

Receiving Feedback

Rarely do two people provide the same advice, and sometimes what one person loves, another would “suggest tweaking”. Sally may be great at tracking emotional themes; Margo is the queen of punctuation. Larry gives a man’s perspective of … well, everything. Jenny adores lurid descriptions, and Katie is the verb-police. Everyone brings something to the table and the author uses what’s helpful and dumps the rest.

Sheron: This is amazing. No two people read the material the same way and just when I think all’s been “fixed,” someone makes an important comment.”

Diana: “Some writers submit first drafts, others a final product, and most something in between. What a writer turns over for critiquing will flavor what comes back. A first draft may point at awkward dialog, holes in the story, punctuation problems, word choice, and grammar. Often a first draft will benefit from a second look after the writer has smoothed the rough edges. For a “final draft” the critique may serve as a last review before the manuscript wings off to the publisher. Either way, a critique group does not eliminate the need for repeated, careful editing on part of the author.”

Sheron: Read that last sentence twice.

Diana:  “Giving Feedback

Writing is personal, and when a writer shares her work and asks for feedback, it’s an act of trust, worthy of respect. Be cognizant of your personal preferences and writing style and separate these from your critiques.

An effective critique starts by emphasizing the strengths of the work. An initial focus on the writer’s successes makes hearing suggestions easier on the ears and heart. There’s always something positive to comment on – story, scene, character, section of dialog, a description, humor, rapport, tension, punctuation, word choice, grammar, pace. A critique is successful if a writer feels good about his or her work and eager to tackle the hurdles.

As much as possible provide suggestions so that the writer gets the gist of your comment. If you identify a weak verb, give a few suggestions for stronger ones. If a sentence is awkward, suggest a possible rewrite. If you think a section of dialog feels stilted, explain why. If you think the character’s emotion is inappropriate, explain your perspective.

You may end up critiquing the equivalent of a chapter or two every two weeks. Remember that this isn’t a typical pace for pleasure reading. A book may seem as though it’s dragging, but that may be more a result of the group’s pace than the book’s.”

Sheron:  This is true if the work is long. Or you meet with lots of time between the critique.Melding of Aeris

Diana:  “When we critique another’s writing we are commenting on the work, not the person. The most helpful criticism is specific to the piece. It points to a word, scene, or paragraph and explains what isn’t working for the reader. Then the writer can see exactly where the challenge lies, learn about another’s perspective and make a choice. Broad negative statements aren’t only signs of a poorly crafted critique, they’re unhelpful and demoralizing. Broad positive statements are fine, but grounding positive feedback with examples shows the writer the strengths he can build on.”

These are great comments and thank you to Diana.

BTW: Diana and I will be signing our books at Jan’s Paperback Saturday, August 9 at 1:00 p.m.

We invite you to join us there.

Address: 18095 SW Tualatin Valley Hwy, Aloha Check out their website@ http://www.JansPaperbacks.com

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under blog information, Book reviews, fantasy, fantasy series, gene modification, genetic manipulation, Indie Science Fiction Authors, science fiction series, Self-publishing, Writing Critique groups

3 responses to “The Writing World and Critique Groups

  1. Excellent post on critique groups!

    The last time I tried joining a face-to-face critique group (which I prefer over online-only, for the same reasons Diana gives), it was nothing but a big mess. Out of more than 25 members, fewer than half were fiction writers at all, and I was the only one writing sci-fi/fantasy. We were supposed to print copies to hand out for other members to read before the next meeting (every 2 weeks), but most didn’t read them. Most members didn’t want any more feedback than “I like it, keep writing” and would not say more than that even when asked to by the author. (‘That’s great, you like it. Can you tell me what it is about it that you like, so I know what is already working? No… of course not.’) I stuck with it longer than I should have, hoping things would change, but I gave up after maybe 4 months.

    It’s too bad, because the critique group I’d been part of before that had been great. More of a support group than anything else, but not the love-it-no-matter-what kind, or the kind that requires members to “love” everything even though they hate it so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings. (‘Good use of description there, but maybe this story would work better if the first part wasn’t from the viewpoint of a raccoon.’)

    Like

    • It’s hard to find the right one, I’ll admit and sometimes it takes time to weed things out. Twenty-five is too big and maybe should have been broken into smaller groups. Sounds like that earlier group had the right idea. Writing is hard enough and those that don’t write don’t understand how hard it can be. Having support in the right way is invaluable.

      Thanks for responding.

      Like

  2. claytonjcallahan

    Great article! Yes, that is exactly how a good critique group works. I liken it to a sparing partner in martial arts. If your partner goes easy on you, you’re gonna get creamed in the big tournament. If your partner breaks your arm by being too aggressive, you won’t BE in the big tournament.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s