Opening the Critique Discussion

One of the reasons I started this website is that there was a pretty serious curve in my own writing path this year. Up until last spring, I was writing mostly fiction and filling in gaps with freelance manuscript editing. Then I pitched a critique-book idea to an editor at Writer’s Digest and found myself with a nonfiction book contract. The Critiquer’s Survival Guide was born.

Okay, well, it won’t be born for another year, but the writing commitment it was going to take from me was definitely given a kick in the you-know-what.

Anyway, it felt like time to change the look and focus of my site, so here you go. Ta da!

While I write this book (and for quite some time, afterward, I suspect) I’ll be thinking a lot about critique groups and about the critique process–how to really dig deep into a story and provide thorough, constructive, and–yes–supportive feedback. So, one of the things I’d like to do with this website is use it as a central “location” for people to talk about this topic. I’d like for people to feel they can come here with questions, for answers, to brainstorm techniques, and to troubleshoot any problems. We’ll use the comments section a lot, I hope, and I’ll take what seem big questions and ideas and see about turning them into new posts–for new discussions!

Now, I’m going to be honest here. You know those times when you are trying to tell a story to a group of very young children? Let’s say you’re telling them about a trip you and your grandfather took to the zoo. You have this great set-up, and you’ve got some funny stuff along the way for details, and there is a whiz-bang ending that will tie it all up into a beautiful package. And what do the kids do? They (hopefully!) raise their hands, all of them, to tell you about the time they went to the zoo, and theysaw an elephant (or a zebra or a boa constrictor or an okapi), and then the parrot “messed” on their little brother’s cotton candy, and they never did get to the platypus exhibit! And maybe the kids even start pushing each other if they don’t think they’re getting their turn, and somebody throws a cookie, and someone else uses the word “stupid.”

🙂

You get the picture. Let’s keep our discussions on topic and respectful–hey, kind of like a critique group
! I want to hear any and all opinions, but I will delete comments that I think cross a line. (Don’t worry–I know that any of you who have already stopped by don’t need to hear that, but I’m sticking it in for a just-in-case, I-warned-you scenario for the future!

So what do you think? Any takers? Does this sound like a good idea to anybody but me? For this first post, is there a question you’ve had for a while about how critique groups work, or what kind might be best-suited to you? Throw a comment in, and let’s see what we all get back!

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14 thoughts on “Opening the Critique Discussion

  1. Critique groups — when they work there’s nothing more helpful. When they don’t, there’s nothing worse.

    The act of writing is so fragile, at least when you’re first starting out. Anything can tear through the thin membrane holding the quivering mass of insecurity many of us creative types suffer.

    Later on, if we’re lucky we move to a point of letting go of ego and listening for the stories’ benefit. But, this wealth of help and support is only possible in a safe group where the members are respected.

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  2. Cindylouwho says:

    Becky, this is a great topic because it especially hits home for me – it is this topic of discussion that pointed me to Writer’s Market community.

    I currently share my writing with about six of my friends and family and I have received very invaluable feedback that I would not have received otherwise. Stuff like my character development may be lacking for one of my characters, and using too many adjectives (one person ranted!).
    Anyway, I am here and would love to participate in this blog.

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  3. Getting critiqued ain’t easy and it takes time to develop the combination thick/thin skin that is required. Thick enough to not get stymied by the critique but thin enough to let the comments in.

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  4. I’ve been involved in two critique groups, one that worked and one that didn’t.

    One didn’t work because the members weren’t motivated. I had to constantly call up and verify they would come to the next meeting. Even when they did show up, only I had something to share. I finally gave up after six months.

    The second worked because the members were motivated, had lots of writing to share and were completely honest in their critiques. They also took the time to read and dig deep into everyone else’s samples. They definitely helped improve the stories I shared.

    I look forward to seeing how this goes.

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  5. beckylevine says:

    Andra–I’m glad you found a group that worked. I’d be interested in hearing whether the two groups were online or in-person, whether you think that made a difference, and how you found them! Thanks for the comment.

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  6. beckylevine says:

    Gottawrite Girl–so are you still critiqung? Or have you given up on it completely? (I hope not!)

    And I haven’t yet figured out pinging–if you figure it out, let me know!

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  7. beckylevine says:

    Cindylouwho–

    Thanks for coming by. Okay, so my first thought–they didn’t need to RANT about it! But it does take people some time to learn the respect part of critiquing. 🙂

    Are the people who read your work other writers? Readers? Are you happy with this kind of feedback, or are you thinking about looking for a more structured kind of group?

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  8. Both groups were in-person. The first group (the one that imploded) began after attending a small seminar on writing. Three of the participants (including me) decided we needed to start one to keep us motivated. Like I said before, only I was motivated enough apparently.

    The second one started with local participants in Nanowrimo two years ago. It’s petered out a bit, because we’re all working stiffs with varying schedules. Much has moved online to a site designed by one of the members. I’ve not participated even online, because most of what I’m concentrating on is Christian in focus, and the other members are not Christians — in fact the bulk of them are atheists.

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  9. beckylevine says:

    Andra–thanks for the extra info. I’ve heard of NaNo groups starting up after November–probably a good source for people looking for a group. I think what you’re seeing is one of those places where a “genre”-based group might be better for you. My current critique group started as a mystery group, but they’re letting me run this book through then, too–yay! I think the WD community might be a good place for you to find other writers in your area.

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  10. helenscribe says:

    I’m a critique group junkie. Been in one glorious one for years, have started a couple myself. I like the on-line versions attached to online writing courses. These overcome the “nobody can make the next date” routine. But still the motivation flags, people drop out. It takes a lot of persistence to be a writer, a lot of time to carefully critique another’s work, a lot of tough love to give and take honest feedback. But it’s worth it. That’s the big payoff–you learn.

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  11. beckylevine says:

    My critique group was just talking about that pay-off today–how much your own writing improves and grows from all the time and energy and back-and-forths. I’m glad your group is “glorious”–keep them around!

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