Critique Groups Can Help Writers

Posted: March 19, 2011 in Uncategorized
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I must be a believer in Critique Groups. Now I am in two of them.

I have been in my first critique group for four years now. Rather than subject them to a rerun of my last book, I joined another group. Now I’m doing a first draft of The Hollywood Detectives and revising Bleeding Blue in my new group.

When I finished my first book, The Big Bluff, I did so in a community college-sponsored critique group and it served me well. However it cost me $60 a term and so after five years, I decided to form a volunteer group.

I rely on feedback from fellow writers to help me with such things as reality in my female protagonists, believability, continuity, and final editing. They point out when I lose a character half-way through the book, or need to bring Portland scenes more into the book, or maybe that I have characters with sound-alike names that may be confusing to the reader.

They also give positive feedback for things I have done well, which gives me the adrenaline to keep going.

The biggest thing they do is keep me writing. I must have a chapter ready to go every two weeks. Sometimes I don’t make that deadline, but more often I do.

I’ve written myself into a bit of a corner with two groups. Now I must have something for each group and both meet on Friday afternoons. One week I write like mad and the next week I revise like mad (from the suggestions given by my group). You would think I wouldn’t have to work so hard since I have a draft finished on Bleeding Blue, featuring Billie Bly, P.I. Well, I find myself revising before I take it to the meeting. We leave a copy at this one and so all commas, typos, and structure is analyzed and I don’t want it to look too sloppy.

In my other group we read out loud, but now we are looking at doing the leave a copy thing to be critiqued at the next meeting.

One of my readers wondered why I haven’t written in my blog lately. The fault here lies in my scheduled time to work on my blog–Friday afternoons, after my critique groups. I think I need to choose another day.

How do you get in a critique group? That can be difficult. I’ve tried Meet-Up groups online, the bulletin board at Willamette Writer’s website, networking with other mystery writers at conventions and trying to get invited.

Everyone is looking for a critique group, but no one is looking for new members. The answer, it seems, is you must start your own group. Meet-Up is not a good place, I’ve found: 50-60 people will join, but a different group of 2-4 will show up each time.

I would advertise with other writing organizations, be skeptical of using Craigslist (you don’t know who you are talking with), and look around to other writers you already know. I’m stilling kicking myself for missing an opportunity a few years ago at Willamette Writer’s Conference. I was in a workshop for mystery writers and there were thirty people, I networked with one or two people who lived out-of-town, but could have passed a sign up sheet for people wanting to join a critique group. Or at least worn a sign on my back. “I need a Critique Group.”

Another venue is author readings. Many writer’s will go to hear a “how to” talk on writing. This is a place you can network and find potential members. Also go to membership meetings of various writing organizations, In Portland we have Willamette Writer’s, Oregon Writer’s Colony and Friends of Mystery. I think there is also a Romance Writer’s organization here. Volunteer to get deeper inside the organization. This will put you in touch with people who are serious about their craft and give you opportunities to meet serious writers who will give good critiques.

Now I’ll leave you with a parting comment from the many agents you will talk to in the future: “Are you in a critique Group?”

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Comments
  1. Sher Davidson says:

    Hi Don,
    I agree: there are many benefits to joining a Critique Group. I’m really getting a lot out of ours already! Both positive and negative comments are forcing me to think more deeply about the craft of writing as well as about the plot and characters. Thanks, Don for your comments!

    Sher

  2. Helen Wand says:

    Good job of critiquing, critique groups. I belong to two as well. They are wonderful. They keep me writing.
    One group is small and intimate and we get 20 to 30 minutes each, to read and get feed-back. I like it because we try to keep a mix of men and women, which is helpful to get a gender point of view.
    The other group is larger and a women’s group. We don’t get as much time to read, but the feedback not just for my work, but to all the other writers, is of great help to me.
    I treasure both groups and credit the people with encouraging me and keeping me writing. I encourage all writers, no matter what stage, to use some of Don’s suggestions and seek out a compatible group. You will not be sorry!

  3. Maureen Kay says:

    Glad to hear both critique groups are working for you!

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