Groups—To Join or Not to Join
Writers’ Journal 2005
I host an empowering, motivating
critique group that meets once a week at Borders Bookstore in Montclair, California.
Since its conception seven years ago, our members have written and published many articles and several books, crediting
the invaluable critiques they received. Consequently, I strongly recommend joining
such a group.
Before you research groups
in your area, however, you should be clear about your expectations. If you don’t
want to be critiqued, do not join a critique group. This may seem obvious, but
I have seen the look of shock on the faces of new members when valid suggestions are made or problems are pointed out. They have been told by others that their writing is wonderful. Even so, their work is going to be carefully scrutinized. Although
positive reinforcement should be a part of the process, pointing out what doesn’t work is what a critique group is all
about. If two or more members voice a concern, it should be seriously considered. Displaying the courage to ask for constructive criticism and having the wisdom to
accept it can lead a committed writer toward a successful publishing career.
Sometimes writers only want
to share their work with others, and that's fine. There is value in meeting with
those of like mind and joining such groups can alleviate the isolation writers often feel.
Writing clubs offer this kind of support and camaraderie. I belong to
the Inland Empire Branch of The California Writers Club. We provide speakers,
workshops, scholarships and a monthly newsletter. Members share writing successes
(or frustrations) and write from prompts extemporaneously. It is great fun,
but it is not a critique group.
If you want to hone your skills
and receive honest feedback, you must be willing to put your writing out there. Once
published, reviews are part of the territory, and critique groups can prepare you for that experience.
Let’s assume you
are ready for an in-depth critique of your work, and that you want to educate yourself about the marketing process. What should you look for in a critique group?
The members of our group come
to weekly meetings prepared to offer critiques in a diplomatic, positive manner. New
members are guided through the marketing process. Information about writing events,
conferences and workshops is shared, as well as marketing and publishing experiences.
Members are asked to adhere to the following guidelines:
Critique honestly but thoughtfully, and if possible, begin with positive reinforcement. Although the definition of critique is "to criticize," there is a subtle difference between the two words.
Correct grammar and punctuation on the manuscript and verbalize only when one of the rules of grammar needs clarification.
Circle or underline repetitive words.
sentences and paragraphs that are confusing or slow the flow of writing.
succinct. After a brief discussion, allow the writer to accept or reject suggestions. It is always the writer's call.
Never be condescending to those who are educating themselves regarding writing and marketing, as it is an on-going process for everyone.
When these guidelines are not
followed, problems can arise. Occasionally, some writers may be dismissive of
certain genres, and this comes across in their attitude. For a critique to be
helpful and accurate, manuscripts must be critiqued within their genre. Literary
writers may want others to write to their standards and insist on “more”
of everything. If a book is intended to be a "page turner" and "a fast read,"
this advice can be detrimental. On the other hand, mainstream writers may critique
literary manuscripts by commercial standards, e.g., too much description, ignoring the fact that the beauty of literary writing
lies in word choice and often lengthy description. Less confident writers may
take these confusing critiques to heart and decide they don’t have the writing skills to be successful. They may hesitate to market their work.
A good facilitator will not
let this happen, even if it means diplomatically suggesting that a member unwilling to abide by the guidelines might want
to find a group that better meets his or her needs. No one should ever leave
a meeting disempowered. Every writer should feel motivated to go home and write.
When deciding whether
or not to join a critique group, ask yourself the following questions: Do you
feel the exciting creative spark that comes from being in the company of other writers?
Have you received a constructive critique? Do you feel good about yourself
as a writer? Are you looking forward to returning to the next meeting? If not, run! You need to find writers
who share your beliefs and a place where you feel accepted and comfortable. If
all your answers are in the affirmative, rejoice! You have found the right critique
group for you.