Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The Best Writer’s Critique Group Ever!

One of the things that will make this an awesome writing year for me: I belong to the best writer’s critique group ever. My group is called Raintree Writers and currently has seven members, three women and four men. How this group evolved from its 2003 all female beginnings to 2020 is a long story, but we’ll leave that for another time. For this post, I’ll focus on the high points for the best ways to find or create a group that works for you, what makes a successful critique group, and how to be the best critique group member ever.

Finding or Forming a Critique Group


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Back in 2003, I took a well-attended novel-writing class here in Northern Colorado from author Brian Kaufman. After the class ended, a couple of the women proactively invited several classmates to form a new critique group to keep each other writing and to help with “eyes-on” submission evaluations.

In my opinion, this is the best way to find an existing group, find a critique partner, or form a new band of writers. Attending a class, even a one-day experience that one might find in a conference master class or a local organization’s monthly educational event, gives the writer an opportunity to meet new people over a period of hours or days and evaluate whether personalities and writing level are a good fit.

Writer contacts through a website or “speed dating” events do not give writers the time needed to get to know each other before the first meeting and does invite hurt feelings if that first meeting does not go well.

What Makes a Group Successful?


One person must be the go-to leader for scheduling and overall decisions. The meeting leader may be rotated, as Raintree Writers has done over time by making the meeting host the meeting leader.

A regular schedule with assigned dates for each member to submit their work is helpful. This avoids the meeting when no one brings new work. Having an assigned submission date is a very nice motivator as well. Raintree Writers meets every two weeks with three submissions scheduled for one meeting and four the next. We allow up to 20 pages for each writer.

Set rules for attendance and for submissions. We allow only new writing or substantially revised chapters to avoid a member submitting work multiple times with only minor changes. If a member is to be absent from a meeting, the member must still do the critiques for others. Members may give up a submission spot or trade a spot when needed.

Becoming a Great Critique Group Member


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First, I highly recommend developing a crocodile hide, well-oiled so that constructive criticism does not penetrate like a knife but rolls into a helpful pool of suggestions the member can use to improve plot, characters, etc. And if you don't already have a well developed sense of humor, work on that as well. In Raintree Writers, we call a big goof an “outrage” and delight in being the one to catch a big error with a “zing.” The ability to take that kind of teasing with laughter is learned over time, however, and is not recommended when a new group is forming.

Members must learn to be respectful when critiquing, comment on the good points as well as the points that need work, and always frame an alternative idea as a suggestion with no implication that the critiquer is “right” and the critiqued member “wrong.”

Recognize that the member being critiqued owns the piece and may not follow every one of your suggestions, or even any of your suggestions. That’s okay. We don't want members to "write to the group" because that seriously tampers with members' ability to develop an individual voice as well as each character's voice.

Be aware that you may ignore or only partially use suggestions other members offer. That’s okay as well, but pay close attention if more than one member offers the same advice. They may be onto something good.

Finally


You can find the best writing critique group ever, or even the best critique partnership ever, if you find and become active in a writers’ organization, meet lots of other writers and get to know them, and take that first step to ask the question: Would you like to help me form a new (best ever) writer’s critique group?


Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017), a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Awards. This novel is also now available in a large print edition. Her short story, “Good Work for a Girl,” appears in the Five Star Anthology, The Spoilt Quilt and Other Frontier Stories: Pioneering Women of the West, released in November 2019.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was interviewed for the Colorado Sun’s SunLit feature that you can find at the Colorado Sun website.

7 comments :

  1. Nice to have a supportive group, and I am sure that the other members appreciate your thoughtful contributions.

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  2. Although many budding authors are shy about getting out and meeting other writers, it really is so uplifting. Plus writers love books and you will always have something to chat about.

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  3. Your group sounds terrific. It also sounds that over time, you've developed the rules, probably by experience with what worked and what didn't. Great post.

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  4. It is super helpful finding a great supportive group of like-minded members.

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  5. I didn't have a lot of success with a group. In fact, it was a very stressful experience. The leader/organizer was young, inexperienced, and sure she knew it all. Now, I have a critique partner, and we work extremely well together and have for more than 10 years. Critiquing runs both ways and is always positive and spot on——even when big changes need to be addressed.

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  6. Patricia, thanks for sharing your thoughtful ideas for creating a supportive critique group. I have dreamed for years of finding such a group, but never quite succeeded. You offered great suggestions for forming and managing a group that is beneficial to every member. Thank you!

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  7. Sharing this with my students, who always ask, "How do I find a writing/critique group?" Thanks!

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