Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Critique Groups, More Can Be Better

I recently joined a critique group for Sci Fi/Fantasy writers, moderated by Jessica Owens. We met at the John Claude Bemis schmooze in April. Although some of my goalie friends write fantasy as well, for the most part, the group concentrates on middle grade/young adult fiction. I have two completed novels and didn't want to overburden my goalies group with both. I also am anxious to wrap these up with editing. I have to admit, I was a little bit nervous about being able to handle two groups of writing coming in for me to edit, but after the first month, I'm so glad to have made the commitment. I've managed to keep up with the goalie critiques and have done all but two critiques for my new group.
I was thinking about the pro's and con's of being in multiple groups; the pro's far outweigh the con's at this point. Then again, it's summer, I'm not working, and despite two out of town trips in a month's time, and the everyday pace I'm setting for myself is relaxed and easy-going. When fall comes around, I may not be this peaceful, but by then, I believe I'll be able to keep up. I'll list what I've observed so far:
Pro's:
1. More reading to do. Yes, this is a pro for me, as I love to read. If you don't love to read, you shouldn't be a writer.
2. More writers to network with. For most of us in a non-college or equivalent field, how many actual writers do you know? I know very few in my area, hence the monthly hour-and-ten-minute drive to the goalie meetings.
3. More eyes on your writing. Even with seasoned critique groups, some punctuation mistakes can go unnoticed. The more eyes on your work, the less of a chance you'll submit something with a glaring grammatical error. This will definitely not impress an editor.
4. More exposure to good writing. This is helpful to your own writing. Even with the number of books published, there are a lot of books that are simply not very good. Chances are, if a person makes a commitment to a group, that person is dedicated to making his/her writing as good as possible.
5. More motivation. The Goalies have kept me writing for four years now. Yes, I wrote before, but the consistency has not been there like it is now. It takes a lot of perseverance to keep one's chin up in the face of rejections. Hearing your friends cheer a good rejection letter instead of just reading it in the solace of one's home and then packing one's manuscript away forever is worth the group's weight in titanium.
6. More chances to help other writers. The children's market for writing may be the most competitive, but it's also the friendliest. Coming into the market with a jealous chip on your shoulder towards other writers will lead to nothing but misery. Scratching each others' backs is not only fun, but very self-satisfying. My first group has come so far in just a few years' time as far as quality of work, we're all extremely happy. There's also a good feeling to know that you helped someone get that book on the shelf.
7. More friends. Is this important for you? Maybe not. Maybe you have tons of friends and can't imagine where you would put anymore. You don't have to be bosom buddies with your critique friends. You won't have to follow them home at night or walk in their shoes once you leave the meetings. You will come away with the knowledge that you've touched someone else's life in a positive way and they've done the same for you.

Con's:
1. More reading to do. This may be a con for you if you have a full time job that comes home with you at night and on the weekends beyond your writing. This is a decision you have to make for yourself and the group. Don't ask others to send you material that will take three months to critique. Be honest with yourself and them.
2. More meetings. Again, this involves how much time you can honestly commit. I meet in person with my Goalie friends, but am online only with the Sci Fi/Fantasy group. This works better for me as two out-of-town trips in one month is too much. You may only want to do online groups.
3. Taking the time to get to know new writers. If you're comfortable with your current critique group and are someone who takes a while to warm up to others, maybe sticking with only one group would be less stressful. Not everyone is outgoing, certainly not all writers, and the stress from dealing with new people may interfere with creativity. Not everyone is as outgoing as Maude. Being somewhat shy and reserved myself around new people (okay, I want to turn around and run from most large groups of unknown people), I've found my new online group very easy to relate to. By next fall, I'll look forward to meeting them in person at the SCBWI Conference.
4. More writing to send out. This may or may not be an issue for you. You could, I guess, send the same writing to two groups, but this seems counterproductive to me. If your group is not able to give you the feedback you feel you need for your writing, they may not be the group for you. I may change my mind on this for one of my manuscripts later, but for now, I feel that I have enough writing ongoing to keep both groups busy. You may be the type of writer who only works on one piece until it's finished. For me, I have too many pieces to work on, so I always have something to submit.

So, it seems as if the pro's win as far as sheer numbers of reasons for multiple critique groups. Keep in mind, however, that critique groups are as personal and individual as your writing should be. Not every group will fit for you. So far in my writing career, I've been involved with four different groups. Two out of the four have been good and include the two current ones. Don't stay in a group that is negative or critical to the point of leaving you with a feeling of uselessness. If one group doesn't work out, excuse yourself nicely, explain that it's just not working for you and be honest with them. Then find another one. The SCBWI has listings of critique groups and will let you know if they're closed or open. You can also start your own. Just don't sit there staring at your laptop and your current rejection letter, wondering if your work is hopeless. Be open to suggestions from those other writers who can give you more detailed feedback than a busy editor or agent who cannot send a ten-page critique to each of the hundreds of scripts that cross their desks each week. Good luck with your search. If you'd like to add to my list, feel free.

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