Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Finding the Right Critique Group by Dawn Kinzer

It’s Writer’s Journey Wednesday and today’s topic is finding the right critique group for you.

I’m a strong believer in critique groups, but not every group is a good fit for every person. And what works for you today, may not work tomorrow.

My first group was comprised of four people. We worked strictly through e-mail. During the week, we sent a total of several written pages up to a full chapter or more to the group. As soon as a member critiqued the work, they e-mailed it back, copying the group so we could see what points or corrections other people had made.

As a member of an online group, you can still benefit from other writers’ input, even though they may live thousands of miles away. You can also critique when your schedule permits. The downside is that some people write faster than others, and you can become so inundated with someone else’s work that you don’t spend time writing yourself. So be clear as to what and how much you can do within a time frame.

A year later I started and facilitated a small writer’s group in my area. We met once a month at a local library. Out of need, the meetings became critique sessions. We e-mailed work to the group a week prior to meeting, and then came together with critiques in hand, ready to discuss our suggestions. This, too, worked well for a time. Then several members moved out of state, or left because of life changes.

From that experience, McCrit emerged, the critique group that Annette and I now belong to with Ocienna Fleiss and Veronica McCann. McCrit stands for McDonald’s Critique group because we really do meet at a local McDonald’s. We settle in at a back corner table almost every Monday evening from 6:30 pm until closing at 11:00 pm.

First we allow ourselves to indulge in not-too-healthy food while we catch up on each other’s lives. Printed copies (usually 7-12 pages) of our work are handed out and a time limit is given for reading and critiquing. If someone doesn’t bring anything to submit for feedback, that’s okay.

We finish the evening by taking time to focus on each person’s chapter, sharing our corrections and suggestions. One of the many benefits is that we grow as writers/editors as we discuss each other’s work. Often times these discussions become brain-storming sessions in which plot problems are solved and characterizations are deepened.

Yes, 4 ½ hours is a long time to sit at a fast food joint. But, it works for us. First of all, coffee, hot chocolate, and other snacks are available throughout the night. ;-D We don’t disrupt our households. And the crew doesn’t care how long we stay, often allowing us to linger after doors are locked and they're cleaning up.


* If possible, find a critique group that includes writers with your skill level or above. It's great to help those less experienced, but you also want to be challenged to improve.

* Seek out people who will be honest in their feedback, but not arrogant or unkind. Criticism is hard enough to take when it's given in love. Who needs to be smacked in the face with it?

* Don't worry about finding a group exclusive to your genre. It helps if someone in your group reads it, but it's not necessary. One of our members writes Westerns. I never would have given her book a second glance in a store, but her story was so well written, I became totally involved with the characters.

* Make sure you understand the group's expectations.

In McCrit, we treat each other with respect. We encourage each other. We pray for each other. And we celebrate successes.

Critique groups can bless your life in so many ways . . . but keep searching until you find the right one for you.