The Value (and the Pitfalls) of a Critique Group in These Times
by Saralyn Richard
At a time when everything seems to have been uprooted, including weddings, graduations, family vacations, classrooms, businesses, and workplaces, the one constant in my calendar has been my writers’ critique group. So what if we can’t meet in person, share snacks, or pet each other’s furbabies, we are all still writing. We are still invested in each other’s chapters and stories, and we have a lot more time on our hands to provide detailed feedback.
Our group meets every other Monday night like clockwork. The schedule keeps me writing, no matter what else is going on in my life. “Feeding the beast,” as I lovingly call it, sometimes sends me scurrying to the computer in the eleventh hour to churn out another chapter for the group’s consideration. Regardless of whether I’m several chapters ahead, or barely keeping up, the ongoing commitment to produce new writing is a major benefit of being in the group.
When it became apparent that social distancing would prevent us from meeting, my critique group didn’t skip a beat. We decided to send our chapters by email, as usual, but send our critiques back by email, as well. Maybe not as much fun or interactive as we are used to, but much better than writing for an audience of none. The critiques, when they came in, gave me lots of ideas for improving my storyline, my characters, my phraseology. I could evaluate each critique at my leisure, without rushing to fit into a designated time period.
Finding something positive to say: “I really love the new font you’re using, and you managed to use almost all of the commas in this chapter correctly.” Graphic courtesy of Clipart-library.com
I often liken being in a critique group to working with an interior decorator. Yes, you can write a novel on your own, just as you can redo your living room furniture and layout and colors without incurring the time or expense of a designer. But if you do take that extra step, in the end, you will have a living room that at least one professional person really loves. I derive that same feeling of confidence in my writing once my novel has passed through the careful inspection of other serious writers.
Sometimes I receive feedback I disagree with. Or there are conflicting opinions within the group about whether something I wrote is clearly and potently expressed. When that happens, I try to analyze the comments, separating the nuggets of truth that sparked them from the persons who gave them. I’m not one to become easily offended or take comments personally. I try to learn from the comments from these, my first readers, and to assume they are offered in the same collegial spirit in which I offer my comments to them. Their comments help me to move forward.
Photo courtesy of trustyspotter.com
Occasionally we have a new member in the group, or someone drops out, but even as the dynamics change, everyone comes to each meeting intending to add value to the group. When individuals come across good articles or opportunities, we share them. Along the way I’ve sought and received advice on such prickly subjects as deep point of view, flashback or chronological, and author intrusion. I can’t imagine this writing adventure without the encouragement and support of my critique group.
Tonight, after several “meetings” via email, we are going to try to Zoom our regular meeting. I’ll do my hair and put on makeup, just like in the pre-COVID days, and I’ll provide my best writing wisdom to each of my critical friends. I can’t wait to see their faces and hear their thoughts!
Do you participate in a writers' critique group? How is your group managing the challenges of social distancing?
Award-winning mystery and children’s book author, Saralyn Richard strives to make the world a better place, one book at a time. Naughty Nana, Murder in the One Percent, and A Palette for Love and Murder, have delighted children and adults, alike. A member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America, Saralyn teaches creative writing at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and continues to write mysteries.
I'm now doing Zoom book club meetings. Contact me for details.
My author’s website is http://www.saralynrichard.com. I enjoy meeting readers through social media, as well. Here are the links: