Critique Groups

DSCN2174Accountability. Feedback. Ideas. Support. These are all reasons writers join critique groups. What they get back, however, is so much more.

There is a sort of serendipity that occurs when creative minds come together to create. It’s a collective consciousness of sorts, a group dynamic, where each individual is made stronger by the whole than they would be if they were alone in a vacuum.

Critique groups come in all sorts and sizes. I’ve worked in a variety of them over the past six years. Each is valuable in its own way. It’s really about your needs as a writer.

My first writing group was in Southern California–the Southern California Fiction Writers they called themselves. The critique members came from a larger organization–the Southwest Manuscripters–which was Ray Bradbury’s group at one point. (Every organization needs their star.) I was asked to join by the man who started the group very early on in my writing career. We called him Captain Dick because he ran the group like a military mission. I will be forever grateful for this group which met weekly on Wednesday night, because I knocked out the first draft of my novel to provide ten pages for them each week. Hoo rah. They cheered me on and encouraged me–and taught me how to do the same for them. Accountability.

When I moved to Northern California, I met Linda. Working together was meant to be as we both had a ready draft of a young adult/middle grade novel, and we were both very passionate about our stories. Having this compatibility was like skiing with someone at exactly the same level–smooth, efficient, fun. We met weekly and were able to quickly work through revision drafts of our works in no time. One-on-one feedback was priceless and the timing was a gift. Simply, a gift.

Along the way, key writing partners came into play. Charlie was really what felt like my first editor in looking at my novel as a whole piece (very important since writing groups focus on sections usually). We write in the same genre, and care about the same key issues, which made his feedback priceless. His experience and sensitivity to my voice let my creativity materialize. Other writer/readers along the way are key: Abe, Barbara, Lois, Deirdre. Not groups, per se, put a key accessory to your process.

Currently, I work with Jen and Darbie in what we call the “Tiaras.” (I don’t really know why, but it kind of stuck.) Each of us are working on a YA novel of very different types. Working in the same genre, though, really informs each of our writing. We are able to brainstorm as we are in the same head space. Ideas. They are the first ones I think to call with a writing success (or bump in the road) because they get it. Support.

We meet every 3rd week and each brings very unique gifts to the process. Together, we watch our writing grow, improve, and we are all able to be very thorough and honest with each other in this size group. Each of us is able to bring ten pages each time for the next time and we do the edits off hard copy vs. Google Docs. I am so grateful for this combination of writers because there is something magical in the combination that I’m not sure I can even put into words. It’s almost other worldly.

Each group is unique and so valuable in its own way. There are as many types of groups as there are writers. Where do you go if you want one?

It’s important to really think about what you need from a group. Is it accountability? Is it feedback? Ideas? Support? Then, write it out. Draw out what your perfect group would look like. How many members? What would each write? Contribute? Where and how often would you meet? Get very clear. Then, like with everything else, put it on your vision board (what? no vision board?) or just mentally send it out to the universe and before you know it, you’ll have a group, and you’ll wonder how you ever got along without one.

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