Hi, everybody! Some of you have been asking if it would make sense for you to form smaller groups within the Teachers Write community to give one another feedback in addition to what we’re already doing, and that’s a fine idea. So let’s talk about critique groups.
A critique group is a small group of people (usually 2-6) who write and agree to read one another’s work from time to time and provide feedback with the purpose of helping one another improve. Critique groups can happen in person — if you live close to some other writers, you might agree to meet once a month at the local coffee shop for this — or online, in which case you’d exchange pages of writing via email or set up a system with folders in Yahoo Groups or something similar.
They can be made up of people who are at about the same level (beginners, folks revising first novels, etc.), people who write the same genre (YA, MG, picture books, nonfiction, etc.) or people who write different kinds of work but have an appreciation for what the others write, too.
Sometimes, critique groups operate on a schedule (each week, writers take turns sending maybe five pages for critique by the others) and sometimes they’re more informal (people share work when it’s done or when they need feedback, and others critique as they can. This is more common with experienced writers, I think, who tend to have deadlines and less predictable schedules.)
Sometimes, it takes a while to find the right critique group. People sometimes post new critique groups or openings in established ones at the SCBWI site or on Verla Kay’s discussion boards for children’s writers. Sometimes, you express interest in this, and someone else has filled the spot already or seems to be a better fit for that particular group. Do not take this personally or read anything into it at all. It happens. It happened to me numerous times when I was looking for a critique group, and if it happens to you, it doesn’t mean that you’re not a good writer or a nice person or anything else. It only means that your “just-right” critique group is still out there. And sometimes, people join a critique group and then realize it’s not a good fit, so they drift away. All of this is part of the process, and it’s okay.
I’ve been in a bunch of critique groups over the years, all full of great people and talented writers. Some have been better fits than others, especially my current group with writers Loree Griffin Burns, Eric Luper, and Liza Martz. Though we write different genres, we all appreciate one another’s work. We run into each other at conferences & retreats sometimes, but our group operates mostly online (via Yahoo groups) and we don’t have a set schedule. I also have a couple other good writers friends with whom I swap manuscripts sometimes.
Last summer, I wrote a pretty detailed piece on how to critique a friend’s writing for the Stenhouse Summer Blogstitute. It uses one of my editor’s revision letters as a mentor text for how to critique someone’s writing in a way that’s constructive and rigorous without making that person feel sad or frustrated or so angry they want to shove their crummy manuscript up your nose. You should read that here. Go ahead…and then come back. I’m going to get a cup of coffee while you do that….
So…do you think you might like to be in a critique group? I can’t create one for you…or tell you who to have coffee with, but I can provide a place for you to talk with other like-minded people who feel the same way and might want to connect with you. We’ll do that early next week. After that, you’ll be on your own to make arrangements with the people you meet on that post and figure things out.
Watch for that post on Monday, in addition to our regular Mini-Lesson Monday. But today…I’d like to invite your questions about critique groups, and I’d like to invite authors to comment and share a little about how their critique groups work. I think you’ll see that like writing styles, there are many critique group styles, and the “right” one is the one that works for you and your writing partners. A respectful, supportive tone is essential, but beyond that, you can figure out how to set things up.
Questions? Comments? Critique group models or tips to share? Fire away!