Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Celebrating the Successful Critique Group: I Couldn’t Have Done it Without You! by Julie Phend

 



No matter where you are in your writing journey, the COVID-19 pandemic has put roadblocks in your path. Maybe it’s hard to find time to write with kids at home or you’re distracted by concern for loved ones. Perhaps you have a new book that has to be promoted entirely online. These are added challenges to an already difficult job. But writers are a resilient group. We may stumble on the stones thrown in our path, but we pick ourselves up and keep on traveling.


We need not travel alone. The support of others is crucial to our journey. And one of the best ways to find support is through a good critique group. I belong to two groups, one that used to meet in person and another that has always critiqued online. Now, due to the pandemic, both groups meet on Zoom. Through these tough months, we have encouraged and pushed each other. We’ve continued to be productive because we know others are counting on us. The pandemic has actually brought us closer, and I believe both groups are stronger than ever. 


So I want to give a shout-out to critique groups everywhere and explore what makes them work.


What is a Critique Group?

A critique group is a group of writers who share their work on a regular basis for the purpose of exchanging feedback and improving craft.

 

Why are critique groups important for a writer?

I posed this question to Terry Jennings, who facilitates critique groups for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) MidAtlantic chapter. 

She said, “A critique group serves as a sounding board for your writing. Critique groups can tell you what you’re doing well, as well as what is confusing about your piece. You can use the group to talk through a problem and get ideas about how to solve it. A critique group also provides validation of your work. It pushes you to write and teaches you to meet deadlines. And by critiquing others, you learn what works. You grow as a writer.”

What are the important elements of a successful critique group?

I asked this question of number of writers involved in critique groups. The answers were surprisingly consistent.
  • Respect: It is crucial to respect each member’s work, their personality, and their process. Remember, they are entrusting you with their creative baby—treat that gift with care.
  • Generosity: Members genuinely want to help each other find the best path for telling their stories. They applaud what works and make suggestions for improvement.
  • Honesty: Critique partners must be honest about what is confusing or doesn’t work. Oftentimes, discussion leads to insight, and insight leads to the best fix.
  • Commitment: When you join a critique group, you are making a commitment to yourself as well as fellow members. Giving thoughtful feedback takes time. Meet deadlines. Carve out the time needed.

How Do Critique Groups Work?

This varies from one group to another. Both of my groups exchange manuscripts for written feedback prior to meeting. However, one group sends comments before the meeting while the other sends them afterward. Some groups read a submission aloud during the meeting, organize their responses, and then discuss. Still other groups exchange feedback entirely through written comments without ever actually meeting.  

Groups vary in size, the most workable being 4-6 members. Meetings vary from weekly to monthly and last about two hours. What’s important is to meet regularly, set guidelines for number of pages and rules for discussion, and follow them. Every writer should get equal time. A timer is crucial for this purpose.

What are my responsibilities in critiquing others?

Meet deadlines. Take time to read your partners’ work carefully and give thoughtful comments both on what works and what doesn’t. When possible, suggest a fix. Be specific, but don’t rewrite it yourself. Always remember, it’s the author’s story. Confidentiality is important, too. Don’t talk about your critique partners’ work to others. It’s their decision when and how much they want to share about their projects.

What are my responsibilities when my work is critiqued?

Listen openly and attentively. Take notes and ask questions if you don’t understand something, without interrupting or becoming defensive. Don’t dismiss what others are saying—upon reflection, you will often see the wisdom of their comments. At the same time, remember it’s your story. Know your story so you aren’t unduly influenced.

 

Other Insights from the Writers I Interviewed:

  • Go into it with a spirit of collaboration, not competition. Celebrate each other’s successes, large and small. Be cheerleaders for each other! Since writing is such a solitary endeavor, camaraderie and support can be as important as the actual critique.
  • A good group needs to concentrate on both the big picture and the nitty-gritty. It’s more than proofreading.
  • A good fit is crucial. Look for a group that writes for the same audience or genre as you. Join on a trial basis and see if you feel comfortable. Do you like the members’ work? Does their feedback meet your needs? “It’s like a relationship,” says critique member Joyana McMahon. “You’re not only choosing each other; you’re choosing to commit and foster each other’s growth over time.”

Joyana McMahon, Julie Phend, JoAnn Sanchez Kenyon, Amy Thernstrom on Zoom

 

Like any good relationship, your group will have its ups and downs. The make-up of your group may change over time, but your commitment will stand. There is no better feeling than having one of your group members publish a new book and knowing you helped it on its journey.

This sounds wonderful! How can I find a group?

There are many resources online. SCBWI offers resources. A local chapter can put you in touch with people who live near you. (SCBWI MidAtlantic maintains a list of writers looking for critique groups in its member pages.) Other writers’ organizations offer similar services. Put out a request on their Facebook pages and on your own. Check out the writing community on Twitter. Talk to other writers at conferences. 

Let people know you’re looking for a group, and you will find one. Then give it your best, and you will reap the rewards!

 

Fab Five Critique Group: Eileen Meyer, Carmela Martino, Dana Easley, Natalie Rompella, Julie Phend

Resources:

For more insight on critique groups, check out the following related Grog blog posts:

https://groggorg.blogspot.com/2017/12/critique-groups-critique-partners-we.html?fbclid=IwAR2mvpDyvY4uPGvLrgyaTJoBBY_qeEWLd_f2X8oTVKb0KbNPETkxlmfFVOc

 

https://groggorg.blogspot.com/2015/08/rx-for-your-critique-group-by-patricia.html?fbclid=IwAR3vqRbTz_HUIPMgIEkQtxVmao6aL9_3HxuJLe52-PiNfo8yk_MJITo2-sU

 

https://groggorg.blogspot.com/2018/01/critique-groups-part-2-by-kathy-halsey.html?fbclid=IwAR3MfQ9fs11oY-GAi-UWYJhkV8TIJl5gOHx9Lr6sBe2kuqwsPapLVTA_jt4

Another helpful resource is THE WRITING GROUP BOOK: CREATING AND SUSTAINING A SUCCESSFUL WRITING GROUP Edited by Lisa Rosenthall

 

 

14 comments:

  1. Great article on critique groups! For those considering joining a group, your blog post is a great summary to give them the full scoop! Bravo!

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    1. Thanks, Eileen. You've been an amazing critique group partner! (And thanks for catching my typo!)

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  2. In celebration of CGs. Ty, Julie. I always look forward to my meetings with the Mojo Women. I appreciate all the link backs to the GROG, too.

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    1. Great! It's always good to hear about successful critique groups.

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  3. great post, Julie. Lots of good and thoughtful points. And a shout-out to my Highlights Chautauqua roomie, Terry ~ Hi!

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  4. Lots of great nuggets here. Glad to be part of a critique group with you.

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  5. Terrific tips, Julie! I'm honored to be part of the Fab Five with you!

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  6. Thanks, Julie, for these tips. So true — critique buddies are the best! I'm blessed to be part of one, but always looking for another to keep me writing!

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  7. Julie-I join you in the shout out for CGs! Your thoughts and tips are so appreciated. I would truly be lost without the support and care of my critique partners. Feeling grateful.

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  8. Thanks, Julie, You've collecting some great reminders about crit groups. I know I couldn't survive without mine!

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  9. Great info for those who want to know more about critique groups!

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  10. Writers share a piece of one’s creative self to become a stronger writer when exchanging manuscripts for critique. Thank you, Julie, for sharing the value of critique partners.

    Critique groups need established goals, shared expectations, and a commitment to writing.

    A good fit is important to support growing as a writer.

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    1. You're so right! A good fit is crucial. Sometimes it takes a few tries before you find the right group. And sometimes established groups need to re-assess their goals expectations to make sure everyone is on the same page. But it's worth the effort.

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