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Critique Writing Groups: Grueling or Inspiring?

9 December, 2007

Robin Mizell, who writes the blog, Treated and Released, recently commented on my piece, Don’t Even Think About Joining My Writing Group. She suggests that joining a critique writing group can help you develop the thick hide that is essential if you want to publish your work. She also provids a list of online critique groups.

If you can’t find a local group, an online group may be a good substitute. Or you may prefer getting comments online rather than face-to-face. In a ‘live’ group, you must listen to criticism without over-reacting. The advantage of reading online criticisms of your masterpiece is that you can howl or swear to your heart’s content. (Very therapeutic!)

I haven’t tried an online critique group myself but may in the future. I suggest that if you’re interested in an online group, join it but give yourself a time limit, say a month, to try it out. Then be honest in answering these questions:

  • Is it helping me improve my writing?
  • Have I learned anything new?
  • Is it helpful but it takes up too much time? Time that could be better spent writing?

Here’s what I would look for in an online critique group:

  • The site provides information and examples about how to critique appropriately–and takes action if comments are inappropriate.
  • People provide positive responses that are specific. Not just: ‘Great stuff’ or ‘I liked your story’. That’s not a critique. When they point out weaknesses or omissions, they do so in a constructive, specific way. Not, ‘weak ending’, but ‘I felt the ending didn’t tell me enough about your main character’s decision’.
  • No one suggests frivolous changes.
    Eg ‘I don’t like the character’s name because it reminds me of my mean 3rd grade teacher’ or ‘the ending’s too grim–I love happy endings’.
  • The site doesn’t sell or pass on people’s email addresses or details.
  • The site addresses in some way the important issues of content theft (plagiarism) and flaming.
  • The site is set up so it’s easy to find your way in it without hunting. It has a simple process for posting material and critiques. The ‘help’ section is not overly technical. It offers a FAQ section.
  • The site is free or offers a free trial period.
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 15 December, 2007 7:56 am

    I’ve had mixed results with writing groups. But whether they’re good, bad or ugly, they have two other things to recommend them.

    Firstly, they provide an audience. I suppose a handful of writers may be like singers in the shower and aspire no further than a private kind of practice, but for most artists the object is actually performance. A critique group lets you learn more about what’s working in your writing and what isn’t, and from a variety of perspectives. (And they’ll generally communicate the pluses and minuses with greater honesty and insight than your mom/dad or wife/husband will.)

    Secondly, writing groups provide a deadline. Most groups look at a couple of submissions from each member, so there’s a powerful incentive to finish what you’ve started, learn from your mistakes and incorporate improvements in the next project. Without deadlines some of us would never finish anything.

    Greg
    (proseparsed.com)

    Hi Greg, Nice to hear from you again, with your usual incisive take on the topic. Yes, the audience aspect is a strong incentive for staying with a writing group. My group has taught me to ‘kill off my darlings’–all those gorgeous phrases, plot twists and characters that did nothing for the story. You’re right as well about deadlines. I write to deadline–always have, always will. It was surprising when I joined my writing group to find that some of the members dash something off at the last minute, with big chunks of the story missing or only alluded to (eg.g. ‘put conversation between X and Y about baby here’). I find it hard to comment constructively on a draft that is so undeveloped.

    Like

  2. 15 December, 2007 5:50 am

    Marsha,
    Your post is timely for me, because my writing group was just interviewed for Raleigh Television Network about the process and workings of creating and maintaining a writing group. . See my post: Raleigh Area Women Writers Televised

    I could not survive as a writer without my critique group. They are my support and my inspiration.

    Trina

    Hi Trina,
    Thanks for directing me to the YouTube site. What a great idea to televise a discussion about writing groups. It will encourage others to take the big step. My group meets monthly as well, which gives me enough time to let the group’s comments sink in and then rewrite. You may be interested in an earlier blog entry I wrote, called Don’t Even Think About Joining My Writing Group.
    Marsha

    Like

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