D is for Discussion

Life’s changing a bit around the old critique group lately. We added a new member lately, someone we’ve all known for years, but who we hadn’t gotten into the “formal” critique relationship with yet. May I just say that it’s going swimmingly.

Something’s happened since she’s joined us. I don’t know if it was just timing, or whether her coming along with her wonderful manuscript has sort of kicked us all in the you-know-what. Whatever the cause, at our last meeting, we all needed a chunk of time for critiquing or brainstorming.

And it was wonderful.

I hear writers worry about what will happen if everyone gets productive at the same time, how they’ll get all the critiquing done, whether they’ll be able to fit their critiques into the normal meeting time. And I don’t want to dismiss these worries. We probably had a total of something close to 100 pages, plus some plotting-thinking time scheduled in. We actually talked emailed ahead of time and agreed to add an extra half hour to the meeting. We also all walked in, got our hot drinks, sat down, and dug in. Because we wanted to fit everyone & everything in. We like this writing productivity, and we want to support it all we can.

Because here’s what happens. One of us starts out and reads our overall critique. The next one follows, and then the third. While each of us is reading, we’re pretty darned good about not interrupting, but if we get a real lightbulb moment, we politely ask for a moment and explain the thought. At the end, when we’ve gone around, the writer asks questions, throws out things she’s been thinking about, and we all chime in. And the individual critiques turn into a full-blown, multi-dimensional discussion. A conversation. A magical mix of back-and-forth interaction that creates its own set of new ideas.

Yes, critique time can cut into writing time. Yes, a group needs to be careful that everybody still feels like they’re making serious progress with their own work. But almost always, I find that the extra energy I put into reading pages and thinking deeply about them more than pays itself back with creativity, imagination, and an extra stimulation to run back & dig into my WIP again.

Try not to put too many limits on submissions in your group. Respect the amount of work everyone can do, but stay flexible and open to what a little extra work will bring you.


  1. P. J. Hoover says:

    Always good advice, Becky. I can’t wait to read your book (which sits on my shelf even now).


  2. We’ve done this the last few times our critique group has met. It’s actually a lot of fun brainstorming possibilities with people you trust, who know your story and your writing style. It helps make the process not so solitary.


    • beckylevine says:

      It’s a huge help, I think. Even when it’s not my story, I just feel my brain waking up and thinking more about the craft.


  3. Vivian says:

    The critique process really helps sharpen the brain, doesn’t it? Sounds like you have a fantastic group.


  4. I’ve always found it doesn’t matter if I don’t get round to discussing my own WIP. The critique process and the supportive atmosphere is enough to rejuvenate the creative synapses so I return to my own work refreshed.


  5. Amy G. says:

    What a great group! I’ve done critiquing mostly on a “whole-work-when-it’s-ready” basis, and sometimes that whole work doesn’t come in at the most convenient time. But like you I find that critiquing someone else’s novel somehow helps me make progress with my own.


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