Tuesday, January 4, 2011

FAQ - Critique Groups

Q: What's your opinion of critique groups?
A: A critique group -- the right critique group -- is a wonderful thing, especially for a not-yet-published writer.  Meeting regularly, whether in person or by the Internet, will at the very least encourage you to keep turning out pages. 

Ideally your critique partners will catch things that you overlooked (why is that character's name Mandy on p. 3 and Mandi on p. 35  and how can her hair be straggling down her back in Chapter 3 when she just had it cut short in Chapter 1, a few weeks previous?) 

And then there are the things that you as the writer know but haven't quite communicated.  (You may know that Cuthbert's deep silences and curt answers betoken a depth of soul and shrinking from the banalities of crude modern life but your critque partners may point out that he comes across as a jerk.) 

Just as it's hard for a writer to proofread her own work -- your brain reads the even though your fingers typed teh -- having fresh eyes on your work to look for continuity issues and for the overall sense and pace is invaluable.

Of course, there are good critique groups and bad critique groups. You don't want readers who delight in tearing down with no suggestions as to how to fix what they see as wrong. You don't want readers who hate the sort of book you're writing. ("I can't read chick lit" or "I hate sci-fi" -- that sort of attitude.) You don't want readers who are fixated on looking for their pet aversions, be it passive voice, the use of 'had' or adverbs or semi-colons, to the exclusion of paying attention to the story.


And you really don't want readers who are no more than cheerleaders.  "O, I love it! You're an amazing writer." Well, maybe a little cheerleading to keep you plugging away is a good thing. But if you're serious about the writing life, you've got to learn to deal with criticism  -- you've got to learn to learn from criticism.


In my opinion, a good critique group needs to be small -- two to four folks would be plenty, assuming you're going to give good attention to each other's work.   

Where to find a critique group?  The one I was in before I had a contract and an editor of my own grew out of a writing class I took. Four of us from the class continued to meet after the class had run its course.  This is a good way of forming a group because by participating in a class with the other folks, you'll gain a feeling for their critique style and whether it's likely to be useful. I know that several of the classes I've taught have formed spin-off groups. 


And there are on line critique groups but I have no experience with them. Browse around and see what you can find. 


Once you are in a critique group, you should be able to judge after a few sessions if it's going to be helpful or not. If it's not, get out. If it's really toxic, get out fast.


Maybe in the comments someone will have more suggestions.
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18 comments:

Marilyn said...

As always I find you FAQ interesting even though I am not a writer. And I love your 'sugar dusting' of snow photos.

Martin H. said...

That's an interesting sequence of photographs, Vicki. Just my cup of tea, a little experimental.

Speaking of critiques, I'm getting along to a Southampton-based writers group, Writing Buddies, in the coming weeks. It's time I got out more!

Tess Kincaid said...

A healthy balance of encouragement and criticism is such a good thing. Hard to find, too.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I totally agree with your comments about how valuable the right critique group can be. The only one I belonged too was a good size, friendly, offered constructive criticism, came with resident cat and regular refills of the teapot. The only problem was no-one in the group knew anything about poetry, which at the time was basically the only thing i wrote...

Kath said...

I've had wonderful in-person critique groups. And one that was nothing but destructive. Now I have online crit partners.

I hang my head because I tend to cheerlead too much, I think. But I find so much in everyone else's work to praise.

I'm trying harder to crit better. Do you suppose you could give us some things to start with if we are recovering cheerleaders and want to be better crit partners?

Suz said...

loved the snowball photo
so much energy waiting to go big

My Carolina Kitchen said...

I totally agree with everything you've said about critique groups.

I belong to two groups. One is the western branch (Netwest) of the North Carolina Writers Network and the other is a group at our local library. Within the Netwest group, there are two different critique sessions - one for poetry and one for fiction/non-fiction. Both groups have been extremely helpful to me as a new writer.
Sam

Vicki Lane said...

About the photos -- just using up odds and ends that I liked but that didn't fit anywhere. The two snow ones were all the little birdie tracks where they had come for seed. And the blurry greenery (yellowry?) one I liked for the color. The snow ball picture reminded me somehow of pictures from the moon's surface. An oddball collection.

Martin, your writing group looks interesting. It's always good to connect with other writers.

I suspect, Tess and CGPoet, that finding the right critique group could take several tries.

Kath, you've given me my topic for next Tuesday's FAQ! Thanks!

Sam, you are lucky to have found not one but two good groups! The Writer's Network is a wonderful resource for NC writers -- probably there are similar groups almost everywhere -- such as the one Martin mentioned above.

Vicki Lane said...

About the photos -- just using up odds and ends that I liked but that didn't fit anywhere. The two snow ones were all the little birdie tracks where they had come for seed. And the blurry greenery (yellowry?) one I liked for the color. The snow ball picture reminded me somehow of pictures from the moon's surface. An oddball collection.

Martin, your writing group looks interesting. It's always good to connect with other writers.

I suspect, Tess and CGPoet, that finding the right critique group could take several tries.

Kath, you've given me my topic for next Tuesday's FAQ! Thanks!

Sam, you are lucky to have found not one but two good groups! The Writer's Network is a wonderful resource for NC writers -- probably there are similar groups almost everywhere -- such as the one Martin mentioned above.

Brian Miller said...

nice. i ampart of an online crit group that has really helped me see some things in my writing...

Darla said...

This is great. And when you said "if you're serious about the writing life, you've got to learn to deal with criticism -- you've got to learn to learn from criticism." that really hit home.

Jill said...

A good critique is priceless. It only helps you grow and expand. You can also give encouragement as well as good constructive criticism. I do have to say though that my experiences are in the visual arts and not writing. I would hate for someone to critique my writing...ha ha ha. By the way....great photos.

Brenda said...

I am intrigued by that last photo, the one of the snowball. Partly because it appears that the photographer was sledding down the hill alongside the tumbling snowball, and also because of the lovely way the snow is sparkling on the icy snow!

Brenda said...

No, the snow is not sparkling on the icy snow, the SUN is sparkling on the icy snow (speaking of needing a critique group... :)

Star said...

Some very good advice there Vicki and I agree with all of it. I have had experience of critique groups online and found it a very mixed experience. As you say, one doesn't just want praise, one wants praise (LOL) and encouragement to improve.
What I need at the moment is inspiration.

dana said...

When two or more people agree on a certain problem with my ms - they're right. I'm wrong. I've had a few who have steered me in different directions and I blindly followed, only to realize they were just being picky for picky's sake.

When a writer taps me on the shoulder and says: "You're at 94% when others are only nearing 23%...trust yourself on this person's suggestions" I feel great.

BUT I JUST DISCOVERED, that if I read my own ms under a different format than what I wrote it with, my eyes see things they ignored before. EMBARRASSING mistakes!

Vicki Lane said...

Yes, indeed, Dana. It's ideal to read it printed out -- for me, anyway.

jeannette said...

In my training I got so used to be critiqued that I feel I miss out on feedback when I don't get it -whether it's writing, painting, you name it.
The catch is to find the "right" group, as you say:)
Wishing you a happy New Year and success in your writing endeavors!