Thursday, January 5, 2012

Critique Groups: What they can and can't do for you.

Many writers participate in critique groups and find them very helpful. I have been in several over the years and got something out of all of them. These groups are organized in a variety of ways, When looking for a group (or starting a group), it's important to find one that meets your needs. So, if you've never been in a group, you might not know what you would want in one.  Here are a few of the ways you can set up a group and what you might look for as a benefit of belonging.

1. In many groups, everyone brings a copy of a chapter of their book for each member of the group. They read the chapter and critique between meetings and at the next meeting, those who participated, orally critique the chapters and in some groups they give a written critique as well.

2, I've also been in a group where members bring a chapter to the meeting and read it aloud. Members critique it on the spot orally. For some people, this is an effective method. For me, it never worked. I'm a visual person, so I have trouble critiquing without seeing the text and my auditory attention span is not as keen as my visual attention span.

3. Another form of critique is the one-on-one critique. Some people don't really like to put their writing before  a group, so they critique with one partner. This is often very effective because the two are able to get to know each other's writing very well and can often offer in-depth critiques.

4. I belonged to a critique group on line years ago. It was interesting, but we never knew who was going to be in the group from week to week, and, after a while, I didn't feel all that great about sending strangers electronic copies of my book. You could revise this and just let in particular members. That might work better.

There are as many configurations of critique groups and how they work as there are writers. When setting up a group or joining a group, here are a few things I'd suggest you keep in mind...

1. Decide before joining what you want to get out of the group and ask those in the group or those leading the group questions. Determine before joining if the group might meet your needs.

2. Think long and hard about how comfortable you are receiving suggestions and giving suggestions. If you are highly defensive, you might want to work on that before joining such a group. If you have difficulty offering suggestions in a diplomatic way, you might not want to join a group.

3. Some groups look at big issues only, such as plot, character development, point of view and how these things work in the book. Others look at everything down to commas and crossed t's.  It is my personal opinion that critique groups should only look at the big issues and not try to substitute as editors.  All work should be edited before it is sent out and a critique group is not the place for that detailed work.

4. After the group, it's up to you what you do with all the suggestions the others have given you. You are under no obligation to use all or any of the suggestions. If the suggestions don't fit what you have in mind for your book, don't feel bad about not using them.

Many of these suggestions apply to art critique groups as well.  I think it's healthy to the creative process to hear what others think of your work, but use all, some or none of the suggestions. Never forget that it's your book or painting or photograph,  and you ultimately must be satisfied with how it turns out.

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