Writing Critique Groups…a Blessing and a Curse!

17, Oct 2012 by Kathy Steffen">Kathy Steffen in Critiques,Featured,Writing Life     , ,   7 Comment

Critque Groups can be a Blessing and a Curse

Critque Groups can be a Blessing and a CurseThere is nothing better for your creative writing than finding (or creating) a critique group. Having someone else read your work is the perfect way to discover if your novel writing is successful and your story is making it to the page (after all, it’s perfect in your head!) and finding out what works and what doesn’t. Nothing will teach you as fast as learning with your own writing. As a group, you will learn from each other and your writing will improve drastically. You can serve to motivate each other, and considering how easy it is to put writing aside, there is nothing like accountability to something outside yourself to keep your writing moving forward.

In today’s high-tech world, you have the choice of a face-to-face group or one online. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. In a face-to-face group, you get to meet other writers in your area and there is a social component that feels good and is motivational on the lonely path of the writer’s life. You’ll feel energized after a meeting. You’ll see right away what grabs a reader and what doesn’t. Know instantly when they are confused. You have more back-and-forth as the critique is happening. But, criticism is more difficult to take when it is face-to-face. Feedback feels much more personal when it’s live. You can’t take 10 minutes (or hours!) to move past the emotional component and deal with feedback in your best rational and professional manner. Back to advantage—this process will serve to toughen you up, something all of us tender creative-types need.

In an online group you have no geographic boundaries, so you can find specific sorts of writers—writers at your same level and writing in or understanding your genre. You can fit your meeting times into your best schedule (late at night or early morning becomes much more do-able) and wear whatever you want; pj’s are fine! You have no travel time. You can get the benefits of a back-and-forth discussion by meeting in a chatroom or skyping (although the wear-what-you-want freedom gets a bit hampered on Skype). Feedback tends to be more complete and honest. You and your critiquer will feel more comfortable with the distance an online format provides. By the same token, it’s easier to handle feedback. If you get upset you have time to get over it and learn from what your critiquer is telling you.

One word about online writer’s groups: proceed with caution. I shy away from “open” groups where anyone can come and look at your writing. I prefer finding a private group where you have to sign up and become a member. This way, your writing isn’t free to millions of faceless people.

Now here comes another warning about both face-to-face and online writing groups: a circle of critiquers can also hamper you and your writing, damaging your self-confidence and pulling you in so many different directions, you’ll find it impossible to write. Don’t be afraid to leave a group that isn’t working for you. People come and go in writer’s groups all the time. There can be many reasons—you aren’t at the right level for the group (too advanced or too beginning) personalities don’t fit, the group doesn’t understand or write in your genre. Keep a professional outlook and leaving a group won’t be messy or personal at all.

So how do you find a critique group? Making contacts during a writing program or conference is a great place to meet other writers, but if your travel budget is tight, start searching on the internet. To begin your hunt, google “YOUR STATE writing groups”) and a list of links will pop up. There are also professional groups listed and they are a great place to start. Many have online and in-person writing groups. Here are a few national group links to get you started:

Romance Writers of America

American Christian Fiction Writers

International Women’s Writers Guild

Mystery Writers of America

Sisters in Crime

Horror Writers Association

One of the greatest things I got out of my exploration of writing groups, online and in-person, was meeting up with my writing partner. Over the 10-plus years we have been writing together, we have become great friends as well as critique-partners, brainstormers, support and accountability for each other. We met online and have only met in person once (we picked a writing conference in Chicago several years ago to meet) which feels strange considering what good friends we have become. We meet online every week, which has become a consistent deadline that we set for each other.

So, when deciding how to go about building your critique circle (or searching for a critique partner) use a little prudence, a bit of common sense, and remember, there are no geographic boundaries!
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://howtowriteshop.loridevoti.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/KathyColum.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Kathy Steffen is an award-winning novelist and author of the “Spirit of the River Series:” “First, There is a River,” “Jasper Mountain,” and “Theater of Illusion,” available online and in bookstores everywhere. Additionally, Kathy is also published in short fiction and pens a monthly writing column, “Between the Lines.” She writes from a log home in the woods of southwestern Wisconsin that she shares with her husband and three cats. Find out more at www.kathysteffen.com”[/author_info] [/author]

7 thoughts on “Writing Critique Groups…a Blessing and a Curse!”

  1. Ann Macela says:

    Hi, Kathy,

    I’m part of an in-person critique that has been going over 10 years. We’ve lost and gained members over the years, but stayed at 6 to 8 members. We’ve had our ups and downs, like any group of people, but we are dedicated and keep coming back for more. Two of us are published. The others are at various stages of their writing career.

    We have written rules which we vote on if anyone wants any changes.

    Our cardinal rule is that everyone must be writing. Personally, I want to know that the members are all going through the same problems I am–how to make my story better–and coming up with ways to solve those problems.

    The important thing we all try to remember is that “It’s my story” and I can take your advice or leave it. And everybody will tell you how THEY would write YOUR story.

    Good post!

  2. EXCELLENT cardinal rule Ann, and how great you all have been going for ten years! That sort of continuity is wonderful.

  3. Geri says:

    It took me three years to find a critique partner, who turned out to be the guy who sat next to me in Write By the Lake for our first novel session. We meet weekly (with two exceptions in 4 months, not bad) and find the actual meeting face/face really good to talk about the writing, and sometimes, why we are not writing (fear, anxiety, life).

    I would add one thing to your great article — it takes time to develop trust and learn how to give a critique that is both honest and helpful versus a) negative or b) superficial. When my critique pal said (recently) “this isn’t up to your usual…” not only did I know he was right, but I knew we’d reach a place of real honesty. So take that time to bond and understand…so worth it. My weekly critique meetings stop me from making excuses!


  4. Geri–that is an excellent point. When I truly bond with someone and share writing, I’m amazed at how strong that bonding becomes, and you are right–speaking from a shared place of authenticity makes for much better, honest critique. Thank you!

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