Saturday, December 10, 2011

Critique Groups: 5 Lessons Learned

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Four of us from my writing, group, ARWA, created a critique group earlier this year.  We are on a temporary hiatus for December, so I thought this might be a good time to consider how things have gone so far. 

Quick Background: Our critique group has a fairly structured process and meeting.  We submit our pages via email on a particular date, usually a week before we meet.  Then, we read and mark up copies of the submissions.  The night of the meeting, we focus on one person's writing at a time.  Reviewers get the opportunity to say what they think.  Then we give the pages to the writer and move to the next person. 


Five Lessons I Have Learned
  1. Some people will like what I write.  Others will not.  Both sides can be vocal.  The positive comments are easy to accept, but learning how to deal with harsh criticism is probably a more valuable skill.  Sometimes the negative criticisms can expose a weak spot I need to address.  Other times I realize that the comment won't work for me and my vision, in which case I always have to remind myself that I can't please everyone.
  2. I always try to let my fellow writers know what I enjoyed about the writing and where I see their successes.  I don't just focus on where I think they need to improve. 
  3. Our group discusses opinions.  The writer can ask questions.  We didn't intend to do this, especially when some of the "how to do critique groups" articles specifically say not to talk, but we discovered it works for us.  If a couple of people have noted a particular passage as being awkward or difficult, we brainstorm ideas on how it could be adjusted.  We are flexible.  So, regardless of what someone else says are the "rules" - we do what makes sense for our group.
  4. In our group, we each seem to have a bit of a niche.  I like looking at the "big picture."  I need to know how this scene fits in with the other scenes (past and future).  Other people notice the nuances of language, character actions and reactions, or how moving one sentence from here to there makes the passage stronger.  We have found that our critiques are best when all of us can attend the meeting.  Now, we re-schedule if someone can't attend. 
  5. After our formal critique group meeting, some of us go for drinks and snacks in a different location.  We are more relaxed and can talk about ideas for future scenes and discuss some of our concerns.  It is a more fluid discussion. It helps us synthesize and explore the ideas.

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