Critique Group Bliss
I have found it. After a couple years of searching and trying different groups, both virtually and in person, I have finally found Critique Group Bliss. I am writing this blog as hope for all the rest of you who are still in need. You can do it too!
One of my writer buddies, A.M. Rose, and I knew we needed a critique group and we set out to establish one ourselves.
Ann and I had been in groups before where members were more hobbyists than professionals. There’s NOTHING wrong with writing as a hobby. If you enjoy writing, excellent. You’re a writer and no one can say otherwise. For critique group, however, we wanted more career-focused individuals. I’ve found that hobbyists tend to either not understand what you’re writing at all or think everything you write is amazing. And the only feedback they want in return is that their work is amazing. “Critique” is part of the group title for a reason. I need to know what doesn’t work in my sample so I can fix it. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear about the good stuff; it makes it easier to swallow the bad. Yet, when I send my work out to agents and editors, they’re going to focus on the stuff that needs to be fixed. The less of that I have, the better my chances for publication, which is always the end goal.
Enough members to meet every week
Small groups are nice because you have plenty of time to get through everyone’s pieces and each person can bring more pages. However, with only a group of four or so, often the writers can’t meet every week. And if even one member can’t come, then group is canceled. I might have a deadline that week and really need some advice. It defeats the purpose of having a weekly meeting if it’s canceled more often than it’s held. About ten members seem to be ideal. If all ten can make it, then each person only brings five pages. If five or under can make it, then bring ten pages each. That way there’s always members who can make the weekly meetings and offer their opinions to keep the momentum of the authors moving forward.
A location close to our homes
I’m in so many groups where I have to drive all over town to attend a get together. In Houston, that’s no small feat. Ann and I routinely drive an hour or so to get to some meet up or critique group or conference that’s held on a different side of town than ours. If we’re going to meet weekly, it’s got to be convenient. Luckily, that’s the benefit to starting your own critique group: You choose the location.
Writers willing to critique outside their genre
It’s difficult to get enough people together who all write in the same genre. Unfortunately, I’ve had experiences in the past where a critique group member could offer me no feedback because she said she didn’t read fantasy. Okay. Regardless of what you normally read or write, character is character; plot holes are plot holes; confusing sentences are confusing sentences. If you can’t see the story through the dragons, then our critique group is not a good fit. Having said that, it’s also nice to have someone in the group who DOES read your genre, because they can tell you whether you’re hitting the expected feel for that audience.
As anyone knows who reads this blog, I’m a member of quite a few writer organizations and I attend a goodly number of conferences, both professional and fandom-related. This is where we found our members:
- four of us already knew each other, YA speculative, YA romance, YA and MG fantasy, YA contemporary
- the Writefest 2018 conference introduced us to a chapter book writer
- a Houston Facebook group enticed an adult romance writer
- one of the monthly SCBWI meetings brought us another YA contemporary writer
- Comicpalooza 2018 surprised me with an old friend who turns out to be a new writer of women’s fiction.
As you can see, we didn’t ask once at one location and then give up. We talked everywhere we went where the potential for local writers existed and talked about the group we were forming. It took a good three months to get this nice and steady flow of authors who are working regularly on producing content and submitting. We could use a couple more members to hit that ideal ten, but we’re certainly not struggling at the moment. This is how you get a dependable group of career-focused individuals who are ready to bolster each other to new heights.
Okay. That might be a bit hyperbolic. But I’m an author, I’m allowed.
But you said “bliss”
Oh yes, I did. Instead of that sad, lonely author drudging away at my desk, I’m out with a bunch of professionals making my creations better. My favorite parts which morph my experience from ho-hum to glorious are:
Not my house
We’ve been at critique groups at someone’s home. It’s actually pretty common. I don’t like it. First off, if I have to clean my house first, I’m not going to have time to get my writing ready and printed. Second, what if I can’t make it? The whole thing has to be canceled even if everyone else can. We meet at Panera which is perfect because it’s relatively quiet in the evening and we can grab dinner if we didn’t have time at home.
Each member has something to add
This group we put together with our fingers crossed has worked out beautifully. Each member, regardless of writing genre or reading genre (which are not always the same), has something to add. Everyone is pretty good at mixing the “I love this” with the “Maybe work on this a bit” with the “I have no idea what’s happening here.” Sometimes, we work out problems as an entire group like when we’re working on someone’s synopsis. We all have our voices without one person dominating or one person completely left out. It’s truly blissful.
I don’t know about you, but I work much more productively when I have a deadline. When I know critique group is Wednesday, I have to have this piece done by Wednesday. With it being only 5-10 pages depending on attendance, it makes the stress doable. Occasionally, I’ll come without anything. But knowing everyone will be looking at me expectantly motivates me to get that writing complete. It’s done wonders for my productivity over the last couple months.
When anyone gets an acceptance or completes a project, we have fellow writers who have watched our journey and truly know what an accomplishment it is. That’s quite satisfying. It’s good for the whole group every time one of us hits a milestone. From finishing your first draft to receiving your advancement check to hitting publish on your indie project, all of it brings home the feeling of success.
Don’t go at it alone. Find your tribe. There are writers wherever you are, I guarantee it. It’s always easier to find any group in a large city, but creatives are everywhere. Put up a sign at your local Starbucks. Place an ad in the local college paper. Beg for support through social media. You might be surprised who around you is also stuck in their home trying to make the words come, trying to find success, trying to become the author they know they could be. Help them and help yourselves. There’s power in numbers, even in the creative community.