Friday Five: How to Keep Critiquing Strong Through the Summer
Okay, the solstice may not have hit, but as I mentioned last post, summer’s pretty much here. For some of us, that means kids out of school, family visits, vacations from work to someplace with lounge chairs and margaritas. As wonderful as these changes are, they can make writing…and critiquing quite the challenge. With schedules shifting and calendars filling up, it can be tempting to let the critique meetings drop, to write your way through as much of the summer as you can, but procrastinate actually getting stuff to your critique partners.
Resist that temptation.
Your critique group keeps you in touch with your writing and your current project, even if you feel like you’re mostly just showing up. Your critique partners will check in with you, you’ll end up talking about a character or a big plot point, and you’ll at least think about what you might write next. You will be critiquing work from the other members (yes, we pretty much always manage to make time for our commitment to others, even if we back off from that same commitment to ourselves), and that will keep you musing about strong setting, active dialogue, and how to weave some humor into a voice. You’ll find yourself motivated to grab a few more minutes each week to write, and you’ll see that you are making progress–even if it slows down from the pace you’d like to set.
And, at the end of summer, you’ll find yourself still connected to your WIP, instead of having to find that connection all over again.
Here are a few tips to hold onto your critique pattern for the next few months.
1. If you’re in an in-person group, get everybody to bring their calendars to each meeting. Confirm that your usual meeting will work for everyone, or at least for the majority of the group. If too many people are scattering in the next couple of weeks, or cleaning for and entertaining those in-laws, set a new date for the next meeting. It’s okay if you’re a week late, and it’s okay if the one lucky member who’s spending the summer in France emails in their critiques. But schedule that time.
2. If you’re in an online group, shoot for the same kind of check-in. Email around and find out about everybody’s plans for the summer, and make sure your usual submission/critique schedule will work. If it looks like there’s going to be a bigger-than-usual gap, try to work something out for the “empty” time. Maybe you’ll email every couple of weeks for status reports and motivation; maybe you’ll commit to at least reading the submissions from the member who wants to submit to an agent in the fall. Find some way to avoid the void! 🙂
3. Be imaginative about where and when you read and critique. Maybe you’re used to a few hours of school time when you can sit quietly with the submissions from your group, but now the kids are home. Can you take them to the park for some run-around time? Are you up for allowing a few more hours of TV and/or video games during the summer months? Are you traveling? Can you critique on the plane without getting airsick? (Not mentioning cars here, because you don’t even want to THINK about me critiquing on a windy road!) What about pool-time at the hotel? If you’ve got family visiting, let them know you will be mysteriously disappearing a few times while they’re there. Offer to drop them at a museum or a trailhead for a bit, then find a nearby cafe or bench to get your critiquing done.
4. Again, if you’re meeting in-person, consider shifting the location of your get-togethers. If one or more of you have small children at home, see if the other members will come to your houses. Yes, the kids will be distracting; yes, as soon as the group shows up, the shy ones will need Mommy or Daddy’s attention, and the non-shy ones will want everybody else’s. Work with it. Get a movie going at low volume in the same room (I can recommend any of the Land Before Time movies for a WIDE range of ages!)
5. Don’t beat yourself up too much if your focus isn’t as tight or if your critiques don’t go quite as deep as you usually shoot for. Yes, giving your critique partners your best feedback is important, but it’s just as important to keep rolling along with what feedback you can provide. It’s much better for everybody to swap a few basic ideas for improvement than to drop your creative exchange altogether.
Overall, be flexible and gentle with yourself and your critique partners. I’m learning big-time these days that baby steps can lead to big productivity and keep us sane! Odds are, nobody will make it to every meeting this summer, or be on-time with every submission to an online group. And, sure, you may see the intensity of your critiques drop a bit. That’s okay. What’s important is to not let the whole summer slip away from you, to keep touching base with each other and keep at least some feedback flowing.
It’s another time to remember that our writing is important to us, that it’s one of the things in our lives we love and need. It’s another time to make sure your current project is on your to-do list–somewhere near the top. It’s another time to commit to our WIPS and to the critiquing that keeps them going.
You can do all this and enjoy the sunshine. I promise.