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Why Join a Critique-Based Writing Group?

30 November, 2007

A critique-based writing group focuses on providing feedback to members on their works in progress. The emphasis is on improving as a writer and learning more about the craft of writing.

Critique-based writing groups are not for everyone. Some people are happier in a group that explores individuals’ different ways of responding to the same topic or writing starter.

Joining a critique-based group may be beneficial only at certain stages in your personal or writing life. Having said that, the best-selling author, Mary Higgins Clark, was a member of a critique-based workshop that met weekly for nearly 40 years!

The critique-based writing group I attend has being going for a year now. In that period, my co-members have explained what they like about my short stories, pointed out where I could improve generally in my story telling, and made me more aware of my writing style.

The experience has shown me that a critique-based writing group offers these benefits:

  • It keeps you writing and redrafting because you not only have a real, live audience, but one that expects you to present your best effort.

  • It keeps you from thinking that you alone suffer frustrations and doubts as a writer.

  • It enables you to get feedback that you can use to improve your story and your writing generally.

  • It builds your resilience and confidence as a author in terms of what you want to write and how.

    How my group started. Four of us met when we enrolled in a writing class at the local community college. After the class ended, we decided we wanted to continue having our work critiqued. When we met as a new writing group, we not only knew each other but we were already comfortable with each person’s critiquing style and writing goals. The fifth person has recently joined us. The five members are women, but we didn’t plan on the group being gender-specific.

    What we write. Even though there’s only 5 of us, we have diverse writing interests: a researched history of an ancestor with fictional vignettes to add interest; fan fiction (subcategory slash fiction); short stories and short plays; memoir; and short stories.

    Nuts and bolts. We meet once a month at the same location (a member’s home) for a three-hour session. The week before, we each email our draft to the others. Most of us provide written comments, which we talk about at the meeting.

    What we do. We don’t set group writing exercises. Each meeting is devoted to critiquing each other’s work. But this often leads us to discuss technical aspects, such as point-of-view, character development, and pace. We try to give a balanced critique: what seems to be working well and where the story could be improved. We don’t always agree about a draft’s strengths and weaknesses.

    We don’t have a moderator but I act as the group’s secretary, reminding people of various dates, etc.

    Getting new members. We have found it very hard to get new members. We’ve told friends and other writers about our group. We’ve given the local writers’ centre and our former teacher a blurb about it.

    We’ve had a few nibbles but people tend to talk themselves out of joining. I can understand how hard it is to join a group of strangers. And the members of my group worry about the issue of someone wanting to join but not being a good fit for some reason.

    We have decided to invite any interested people to attend a couple of meetings as guests, with no commitment required.

    I wonder how other writing groups attract new members and how they handle the issue of ‘good fit’.

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