Monday, January 5, 2015

Good Critique Groups

The value of a good critique group

“Critiquing,” we'll define here, is working on a manuscript that’s still in draft form This is the time where big ideas, the story arc, the characters, or with non-fiction—the tighter research that can still be added for relevance in the story.

Criticism, as the first definition given in the dictionary, is “to consider the merits and demerits of and to judge accordingly.”

Critiquing is NOT Editing, which is, according to the dictionary, “to prepare for publication or presentation.”

So you can see where these two concepts are different. It’s always good to make your work the best it can be BEFORE you put it out there for public consumption.


What we want to do is find “big picture” issues, whereas, for “editing” today in this workshop, we’ll mean that to be more fine-tuning; for example, when I’m ready to submit a piece to a publisher, or when the publisher is looking at your work before publication, he or she will go over it to look for punctuation, spelling, grammatical issues.


Remember, a critique is “To consider the merits” – Just like the ultimate burger with the meat, or pretend meat, the ketchup, pickle, onion, cheese, lettuce, tomato, bun, a good group is made up of people with different abilities and gifts that add to the entire finished product.

Group Dynamics: What works and what doesn’t.
When I was a brand-new writer, I had little idea about story arcs, and current trends in first person, close third person, whether or not to use dialog tags, and how often and how to introduce your character. I got caught up in other people’s rules because I always assumed everyone else knew more than I did. While that’s often true, it was a bad thing for me. I swayed with whatever another writer told me until I fell into that huge whirlpool of “Writing by Committee.” I no longer recognized my own work and became trapped in a morass of other people’s ideas.

The Best Critique Groups
      Are made up of people who are a different stages of the publication journey – when your group is made up solely of writers who don’t know what they’re doing, you may just all be spinning your wheels; or those who are already multi-published and get too blasé, or those who know each other so well, you find it hard to pick out any issue that could use some work; or writers who never have any plan to publish but just want to have fun. What is your group goal?
      Have different skill sets – Different skills, as well as different genres. You’ll often find that as your group works together, the authors will sort themselves out so that someone will be the “big picture” person, and someone will be the comma queen, and someone will pick up on all those pet words; poetry people are EXCELLENT to have in your group – they’re the ultimate champions of “WRITE TIGHT”
      Are willing to share their own work, not just dish out criticism – upon occasion you end up with someone in a group who no longer brings any work. They show up and sit in on your stuff, but never allow others to look at his. Figure out a way to encourage these people – whether through “fines” or gentle encouragement.
      Are willing to hear the opinions of others., We like to be defensive, right? Learn to LISTEN – you don’t have to agree. Remember – the object is to look for the MERIT
      Have fun – do something outside the norm once in a while, sponsor an open mic night at the coffee shop, field trip to visit an author signing or dinner.

And, establishing some general guidelines, like choosing regular meeting dates, and appointing a particular facilitator to keep things moving – whether permanent or rotating – is good, too.


One, Recognize the other writer’s individual voice and unique story-telling. Rules are good and necessary and important—but don’t let them put your fire out.

We don’t hijack someone else’s work, but even if we don’t agree or like it, we let the author tell his or her own story.

Secondly, Don’t rewrite for someone else, unless he or she asks for specific examples. This is not your piece, but you are charged with helping someone else grow his or her strengths and skills, not do it for him.
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