Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What’s a Critique Group and Do I Need One? By Nicole O’Dell

Nicolle O’Dell recently visited Seriously Write and shared her journey to publication. This Writer’s Journey Wednesday, she’s returned to tell us about her experiences with critique groups. Enjoy!

What’s a Critique
Group and
Do I Need One?

A critique group is a select group of individuals (as few as two or as many as you’d like) who work together to hone each other’s work.

Yes, you need one! Even if it’s just one crit partner—you need one.

How I got into a critique group . . .

First I joined (American Christian Fiction Writers). It's an amazing group of writers at all stages of their careers. Some are multi-published, award-winning authors, some are just getting their feet wet. It costs $50.00 for a yearly membership, I believe. I then joined the ACFW’s critique training session which was a required pre-cursor to joining the large ACFW critique group. Through that session, I learned their rules and how to actually do a critique of someone else's work.

The goal of that large group is to spin off smaller, more intimate groups of writers who discover they either have a lot in common or like the work and the critique methods of other members, etc. Within a week of being a part of the large one, I was invited to join a small group which is where I settled and remained for about a year. We were usually a group of five (sometimes four) and went for diversity. We had some young adult, contemporary, mystery, romance and even some fantasy.

Over time, while we appreciated each other’s strengths and grew to be very good friends, several of us decided that it would better if we shared critiques with others in the same genre’. So, we separated and went in our various directions. This was a good move, and I bring it up only to show that a critique group is a living, breathing and changing thing. You should always be open to God’s leading and direction for yourself and your group members.

How does it work?

Each group sets their own guidelines. Some are more specific and say something like: Each member can submit up to two chapters a week and must critique two chapters for every one chapter she submits. Some allow you to submit more chapters but you all agree to critique everything that comes in. It just depends on the time availability of each member and what everyone agrees upon.

For that initial group, we stayed flexible. We realized that not everyone would have something to submit every week and some weeks one of us may have a lot to dump out there. My wonderful group of ladies willingly critiqued my two whole books (Scenarios books 3 & 4) in a two-week time period because they knew they were due for submission. I still thank them from the bottom of my heart for that dedication—and so do my readers!

The group I’m a part of now is a yahoo group of all YA authors. We typically work in complete or near complete manuscripts rather than a few chapters at a time. This works well for me because I usually write in a flurry of chapters and finish a book quickly and then don’t have anything for a month or two. Again, recognizing your needs and be honest about what is best for you will help you find a situation that best serves your needs.

For the specifics of the actual critique, I like to use Track Changes in Microsoft Word. But, it could be as simple as notations in a different color within the manuscript.

If the authors in a group are highly successful, will they want to take on a beginner?

Some won't--but those won't be the ones who put themselves out there looking for new members to join. Those folks probably already have a tight group in place and you won't find them stumbling around a critique group like on ACFW. Writers who are in places like that are looking to find people with whom they can connect. So, go for it!

Plus, everyone is at a different stage in their development. For example, I was the only "published" book author in my original critique group, but I probably had the most to learn. Some of them were genesis finalists and had won other awards, too. Maybe I can help them with the publishing aspect--queries, proposals, etc--but they can help me with the technical aspects of the writing.

Also, even if your work needs help, it's far easier to see the flaws in something someone else wrote than in something you're very close to. And, we all need to hear what average readers AND seasoned professional think--everyone falls between those two categories somewhere. So, as long as your style, personality and availability are a match, a group could be made up of any blend of writers at any stage of their career.

The growth in my writing between the release of my books first two book and then three and four a year later is exponential. I credit my excellent crit partners with that growth more than any other thing. So, if you’ve been on the fence about joining or starting a crit group, I hope my words have encouraged you to take the plunge. Your writing will grow more than any other way, in my opinion.

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Nicole O’Dell and her husband Wil have six wonderful children, the most recent additions being triplets, born in August 2008. Nicole and Wil recently began a youth group at their church for grades 7-12 where Nicole focuses on the teaching, Bible study application, service outreach planning and evangelism focus for the group. She enjoys speaking at other churches, youth groups and parenting groups to offer insight into healthy, Godly navigation of those rough teen years. Over the years, Nicole has worked as a youth director, a Bible study leader for women and teens, a counselor at a crisis pregnancy center and was a veteran camp counselor for over a decade.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Nicole!

    I'm so with you. Critique groups are extremely helpful - but it's important that you find one that works for you and fits your needs.

    Annette and I belong to a critique group with two other published writers. We've met for some time, so a lot of trust has developed within the group. We not only critique each other's work, we support and pray for each other. Not only about things pertaining to our writing lives, but also our personal lives. It's an awesome gift!!!

    And we laugh. Boy, do we laugh! :-D


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