Critiquing Critique Clubs

Every month in Writer's Digest's InkWell section, we pose a question related to the writing life. Tell us your thoughts.
Brian
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Critiquing Critique Clubs

Postby Brian » Fri Jan 30, 2009 11:20 am


Brian
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Critiquing Critique Clubs

Postby Brian » Fri Jan 30, 2009 11:20 am

In every issue in Writer's Digest's InkWell section, we pose a thought-provoking question related to the writing life. In the April issue, Gigi Rosenberg describes the ups and downs of writing groups, and the ways you can critique material so everyone leaves wanting to write more.

What makes a great critique group, and what tips do you have for writers looking to start one?

To be part of our monthly Conversation, post your response here by hitting the "reply" button. A few responses may be selected to run in a future "WD" e-newsletter.

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Blueocean
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Re: Critiquing Critique Clubs

Postby Blueocean » Sun Feb 01, 2009 7:51 am

A positive and encouraging atmosphere is a MUST. If this one key element is missing, then the group will most likely fizzle. People are making themselves vulnerable when they submit to a critique group, and harsh criticism will drive them away faster than anything else. I try to put as many smiley faces as I can on the submissions, along with helpful suggestions on how the writing can be improved.
A few tips for beginning a Writers Critique Group: Network, network, network. Writers are everywhere, some just need a little prompting to come out and socialize. Advertise at your local library, Barnes and Noble and Coffee shops. Once you have two or three people in your group, select a moderator. Decide where and how often you want to meet. Evenings generally work best, as most writers also hold down a day job. The location should be somewhere central, convenient for everyone. The Writers Digest forum is a great place to hook up with other writers. Most of the writers in our Orlando group met via this website.
Our group usually goes out to eat after the meeting. That way, we can focus on writing and critiquing at the meeting, and know we'll have time to be social and get to know each other afterward.

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Re: Critiquing Critique Clubs

Postby solhawk » Sun Feb 15, 2009 1:02 pm

A good critique group is for me when you can discuss not only short stories but chapters of your novel which would take a few sessions to discuss. You get far better comments about a chapter when the people already know what happened before. Grammar and style comments are what you normally get in online forums, but when you meet with the same people, they can tell you if there are logical flaws in your story, or if a sudden change of behavior from one of your characters is believable or not. They can also tell you if the first chapters are in a way written that someone would actually read as far as to the middle or the end of the novel. There should also be the possibility to discuss your revised texts. It's nice to get recommendations on how to improve your writing. But how do you know it really improved? Maybe you didn't understand the recommendations? That's why a critique group should also re-discuss revised stories.
As for how to start a group? I agree with Blueocean. The best way is to advertise at places where you would assume to find writers. To find enough people, you shouldn't limit the group to specific genres. This only diminishes the chances to get the group starting. Besides, it's always good to look beyond one's own nose.

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Re: Critiquing Critique Clubs

Postby solhawk » Sun Feb 15, 2009 1:02 pm

A good critique group is for me when you can discuss not only short stories but chapters of your novel which would take a few sessions to discuss. You get far better comments about a chapter when the people already know what happened before. Grammar and style comments are what you normally get in online forums, but when you meet with the same people, they can tell you if there are logical flaws in your story, or if a sudden change of behavior from one of your characters is believable or not. They can also tell you if the first chapters are in a way written that someone would actually read as far as to the middle or the end of the novel. There should also be the possibility to discuss your revised texts. It's nice to get recommendations on how to improve your writing. But how do you know it really improved? Maybe you didn't understand the recommendations? That's why a critique group should also re-discuss revised stories.
As for how to start a group? I agree with Blueocean. The best way is to advertise at places where you would assume to find writers. To find enough people, you shouldn't limit the group to specific genres. This only diminishes the chances to get the group starting. Besides, it's always good to look beyond one's own nose.

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Re: Critiquing Critique Clubs

Postby jrtomlin » Sun Feb 15, 2009 1:24 pm

I disagree on the comment about limiting genres. I've found that especially with fantasy and science fiction, if the people critiquing aren't well-acquainted with the genres, they are critiquing in the dark. I've never had a problem finding people who are working in them. When I started, I tried a few groups that were non-genre and the feedback I got all too often wasn't helpful or simply wrong because they didn't understand genre basics.

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Re: Critiquing Critique Clubs

Postby jrtomlin » Sun Feb 15, 2009 1:24 pm

I disagree on the comment about limiting genres. I've found that especially with fantasy and science fiction, if the people critiquing aren't well-acquainted with the genres, they are critiquing in the dark. I've never had a problem finding people who are working in them. When I started, I tried a few groups that were non-genre and the feedback I got all too often wasn't helpful or simply wrong because they didn't understand genre basics.

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Re: Critiquing Critique Clubs

Postby solhawk » Sun Feb 15, 2009 5:58 pm

Hi Jeanne, I agree that if you write for a specific genre, your goal should be to find a critique group for this special genre. I write spec-fic myself, and ran into the problems you mentioned about getting not useful comments. I only made the experience that I couldn't find anyone willing to start a writers group just for sci-fi and fantasy in the area I live. Online is something different. To get started, I think any writers group is a good way to get into the mood of writing. I just say, you shouldn't limit yourself to one genre right from the beginning. Though, everyone has to decide for oneself, of course.

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solhawk
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Re: Critiquing Critique Clubs

Postby solhawk » Sun Feb 15, 2009 5:58 pm

Hi Jeanne, I agree that if you write for a specific genre, your goal should be to find a critique group for this special genre. I write spec-fic myself, and ran into the problems you mentioned about getting not useful comments. I only made the experience that I couldn't find anyone willing to start a writers group just for sci-fi and fantasy in the area I live. Online is something different. To get started, I think any writers group is a good way to get into the mood of writing. I just say, you shouldn't limit yourself to one genre right from the beginning. Though, everyone has to decide for oneself, of course.

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Re: Critiquing Critique Clubs

Postby TygerValverde » Wed Mar 18, 2009 3:45 am

I prefer online critique groups. The members can read and critique submissions on their own time, as opposed to having to come up with an answer on the spot in a live group. I think groups with 25-50 active members are best for a variety of input. I like groups that span all genres. It encourages me to write in more than one genre and get valid input. There should be rules of course. If someone doesn't like a particular genre or doesn't know anything about it, he/she should not crititique a piece written in that genre. I prefer in-depth critiques with some editing. It helps me grow as a writer. I want to know what, where, how and why my writing affects a reader a certain way. "I don't like your story" or "Oh you write so well" doesn't help me at all. Nor do comments, such as "punctuation needs attention."
Another important thing is to find a group that is at your level of writing or higher. If the majority of the members write like fifth graders, the group obviously isn't going to give you anything if you write like a college graduate.

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