Thursday, March 8, 2012

Critique Groups by Christine Duncan

I met an old friend for lunch the other day. She had recently moved back to the area and was searching for a critique group. Not so coincidentally, so am I. She had tried more than I had though. She kept coming up with groups that charged. Groups that wanted to include everyone from the lady who wants to write Haiku to the guy who thinks he wants to write a novel in the first person--without any description and with no capital letters or punctuation. And doesn't know if he wants to stick to some genre "formula." Many of the groups she had tried limited manuscripts from each writer to only once every 4 weeks or so. So you attend 3 meetings and critique and then on the fourth, you finally get some feedback. I have a few simple rules for critique. First, you limit group membership. Everyone can not possibly be good at all writing. Personally, I know diddly about Haiku. And not much more about biographies. So any group I'm a part of will limit itself to--at the minimum--fiction writing. I try to make sure that I join adult mystery fiction writing groups. I like romance, s/f, action, but can I critique it? I've never written it, that's for sure. My second rule of critique is equally simple. Everyone brings in 8-10 pages of their manuscript. Everyone brings enough copies for every person in the critique group. And when you get there, you exchange your copies. Everyone reads the same one first and then critiques that one. Then you read another, and critique until everyone gets some feedback. The author can not argue with the critique. And it's rude to leave after your stuff has been critiqued but before the group is done with the rest. Oh and my third rule of critique is probably the most important. I believe in the sandwich method. Say something nice, everyone needs to know what is good about their manuscript. Otherwise, they could just trash the whole thing. After you say something nice, you can make a suggestion about changes. Then say something else nice. No hatchet jobs. No sucking up either. Honesty is best. I love critique because I will get writing when I know a group is going to be seeing it. Life has been so busy these last few years, I've tried to fudge it by doing online critique or emailing my stuff to a writing buddy. It doesn't work as well for me. But a bad critique group is worse than none.


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

The critique group I belong to operates as you described, we limit it to 7 people, everyone gets to read one chapter, a copy is given to everyone, suggestions made one at a time, no interrupting and no defending by the author. Works great.

Earl Staggs said...

Christine, my feelings about a critique group is about the same as yours with one exception. Our group emails our subs to the group a week ahead of the meeting. That way, when we meet, we don't waste time reading. We jump right into the critiques. That works so much better. I'm also in an email group with two other writers. We call it a COD group: Critique on Demand. There's no schedule. Anytime each of us has something to submit, we send it to the others and get feedback within five days. The secret to a successful group is finding the right mix of people. Sometimes that takes a while.