Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Value of a (Critique) Group or How Big Did You Say It Was?

I like the idea of groups.  Google+ calls them Circles.  Facebook calls them Friends.  There is value in connecting with peers, family, friends, like-minded individuals (you get the idea).

I have been lucky enough to be included in a new Writers' Critique Group (thanks Linda!)  Five women from various backgrounds, ages and stages of life, who bring their own unique writing styles and personalities to our little cluster of soft-backed, sturdy chairs (if you read Sioux's recent post, you know why this group of ours requires a certain functionality in our seating).

I am honored to be a part of this group.  I talk a lot.  But then, I can't help it.  Their writing excites me.  It excites me to read it, it excites me to think about all the ideas and the possibilities, to be exposed to different genres and styles.  And because I come from a Marketing background, I am all about the concepting, the group ideation, especially when it involves chocolate cake (thanks again, Lynn!).

If you find yourself in the enviable position to join such a group.  If you decide you'd like to start one, or be a part of one, or just check out what all the fuss is about, you should definitely do so.  I personally guarantee that it will help your writing, and increase your confidence in what you bring to the (coffee) table, but you just may find a group of people that you enjoy being around. You'll certainly spend a few hours a week (or month) honing your craft. If you're lucky, you'll laugh a little (thanks Tammy!), and you just might stretch beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone and try a new genre or two.

A few pointers for joining (or starting) a critique group of your own:

1. Surround yourself with writers who are at or near your level of writing.  Some might be stronger, some might not have as much experience, and each of them might write for a different genre (fiction, no-fiction, memoir, etc.). This way, you can learn from each other.

2. Come prepared.  Bring a copy of your piece for each person in the group.  Double space to allow room for group members to write comments.

3. Have a game plan.  Set aside the first few minutes of your first meeting to go over the plan.  Will you each read aloud from your work?  Will everyone read your work silently?  Who should start the critique? Should you work your way around the circle so that each person has a dedicated time to speak, or just speak out when you have a thought?  Is the person being critiqued allowed to speak - or only listen?

4.  Create limits.  On the size of the piece you are bringing: I way overstepped mine last night and brought 5 pages.  My apologies, girls.  I think 2-3 pages is quite enough, and I promise to follow this rule in the future! And also on the time you meet: approx. two hours should do it. One hour just isn't enough, and 3 hours...well, who has 3 hours?

5. Use the sandwich approach.  It's helpful to sandwich your critique of someone's work between two positive comments (i.e. "love your writing style!  Your dialogue isn't really working for me, it doesn't sound "real," but your ending is great).  Having been through several college writing courses, I've developed a fairly thick skin, and personally, I don't need niceties (unless of course they are truly sincere and worthy) and really believe I am in this group to learn something - I want my work torn apart so I can put it back together stronger and hopefully ready to shop out.  That said, it's always nice to get a compliment, and if you're just starting out, it can be very helpful.

Ever been in a great writing group? If you've got ideas, thoughts or advice from your own experiences, I'd love for you to share in the comments below...


  1. Well said. Critique group forces me to write, helps me to see the error of my ways (in writing) and is fun, especially when everyone connects.
    How big did you say it was?

  2. I an cracking up! AND it can also provide new recipes: i.e. New uses for frozen leg of lamb...

  3. Size DOES matter! (The size of the group, of course! Whatever is Linda talking about?)

    Yes, writers who wallow in various genres helps everybody stretch a little.

  4. I'm so lucky to be a part of this.

  5. Well said, and thanks for throwing me that bone. And thank you for the link!! :D