Q: What's your opinion of critique groups?
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.
LV - January 2012
5 years ago