by Raelene Gorlinsky
One of the things our editors very frequently recommend to authors (aspiring or published) is that they participate in a critique group to get feedback on their work. Now, critique groups come in all shapes and sizes, and finding one that matches your needs is not necessarily easy. Nor does everyone agree with the concept - I have heard one very wellknown NY top editor express that she does not feel they are of value to many writers. I disagree. While it is true that some writers don't have the right temperament or needs to fit in a group like this, I think most writers can benefit from them. Not just from the advice on your writing - but by helping you develop a thick skin and learn to deal with criticism. (Nothing is more unprofessional and immature than an author who whines over every bad review - or worse, lashes back with anger.)
Below are some things to consider about being part of a critique group. None of the different options are inherently better or worse, it all depends on what you need at this stage of your writing. The important thing is to understand up front what you are getting into, if you will fit, and if it will benefit you.
~ Do you have the time? In exchange for having people review your WIP, you are making a commitment to read, spend time analyzing, and intelligently comment upon the work of other writers.
~ Is the group online (exchanging files and comments via email) or "live" - getting together in person on a regular basis?
~ Can you offer reasoned, careful, well-explained, unemotional opinions on someone's writing? Just "I don't like it" or "This is wrong" is of no help.
~ Can you gracefully and calmly accept constructive criticism, even if it tears your work apart?
~ Is there a stated mission, or guidelines about how the group functions - how much time must you put in, what types of comments are acceptable, etc? How formal and organized is it? How are difficult or obstructive or unpleasant group members dealt with?
~ Is it a mixed-genre group, or is everyone writing in the same genre?
~ Is the group mainly for socializing and support, or is it firmly no-nonsense professional criticism? Or a bit of both?
~ Is the group just for critiquing WIP, or is it also an opportunity to exchange industry news and tips, share conference experiences, maybe have presentations or workshops?
~ What is the balance of published versus not-yet-published participants? Do you get any feeling that there is resentment or discord between the two types?
I belong to a critique group. We meet in person once a month, generally about five or six people make it each time. It's a mixed group - romance, children's literature, non-fiction. We do a good bit of chatting and socializing - and go out to lunch together after each meeting. But we keep in mind that our main purpose is to read and get feedback on the latest bit of our WIP. The first meeting I attended demonstrated to me the benefit of such a group. I read part of my WIP (a children's picture book), and there were lots of suggestions. I was stunned: "Everything you are telling me are things I as an editor say to authors all the time!" Yep, there's so much you can see in other people's work and just don't recognize in your own.
Some authors prefer a critique "partner" - just one other person with whom they exchange work in progress, whose opinion they value and trust.
So please tell us and your fellow authors reading this blog: Do you belong to a critique group? Is this the first one for you, or do you have prior experience with this? Do you think it is valuable to your writing? How did you find the group? What, for you, are the best and worst aspects of belonging to a critique group?