I’ve been hearing about a movie, called “Authors Anonymous,” in which critique groups are presented in a rather poor light. Before I go on, let me make it clear that I have not seen the movie, nor do I plan to. The reviews I’ve seen haven’t been good, and the truth is I don’t go to a lot of movies. I’d rather stay home and read a book.
The point of this post is not to bash the movie, but to offer my own take on the importance of critique groups (One of my children suggested that I write this post on the topic of how-to-accomplish-any-writing-while-your-kids-are-hyped-up-on-Easter-candy, but I’ll save that for another day). Back to the critique groups; I’ll use my personal experience as an example.
I am by no means a critique group expert, but I’ve been a member of one for about a year so I feel somewhat qualified to give my opinion. And my opinion is that it’s been a great experience. I am a member of an online critique group that I found through Women Who Write, a nonprofit writing organization for women. There have been a few comings and goings in my group, but there is still a core group of women who have been there from the online group’s inception. I like to stay in touch with the women who have left our group to continue to offer support and encouragement. The members of the group are at different places in our writing journey, and we all need and offer support and constructive criticism to each other.
This is how it works: there are rules about the length of our submissions to the group. We all adhere to the rules. We submit our writings on a designated day every month and two weeks later, everyone’s critique of our writings are due. The critiques are done in the “sandwich method,” which means they start and end on a positive note and in the middle are the constructive comments about flow, characters, plot speed, and any other issues the writer or critiquer may have. It works because we all understand that our writing can always improve and we are not shy about receiving criticism because of the positive way in which it is given.
One of our members is a memoir-writer, one writes prose that is often in short story form, one is writing an edgy young adult novel, one writes women’s commercial fiction (what used to be called “chick lit”), and then there’s me, a novel writer. What I love most about reading their work is that it’s so different from what I write; I love reading something different once in a while. I respect them all for their amazing abilities in their chosen genres. I sometimes feel ill-equipped to offer critiques on their work, since I don’t always know the nuances of their genres, but they know that and they can always feel free to take my suggestions with a grain of salt.
The nice part about an online group is that we submit our writings and our critiques electronically, so if I don’t have time to submit my writing or my critique until I’m in my pajamas at 11 o’clock on a Monday night, that’s okay. I can work and submit whenever I want before the deadline, and if I’m a day late, that’s okay, too. You can’t do that in a face-to-face meeting; if a group member is unprepared in a face-to-face group, that member doesn’t benefit from a critique and the other members don’t benefit from that member’s suggestions.
I also have a critique partnership with a wonderful woman who is writing a satirical romance novel. She and I trade work once a month and give our critiques over the phone. Again, I can be in my pajamas if I want, but I have to be ready to critique at the appointed time, or we both suffer. I love the flexibility of this critique partnership; we decide during our phone call when we can both be ready for our next submissions, and when we have time to discuss our critiques on the phone. It works well and I’m really enjoying and benefitting from the experience.
So that’s how I view critique groups. They probably don’t all work as well as mine, but that’s why movies are made. And I have to admit, our group works so well that we would make a pretty boring movie.
Have you had any positive- or negative- critique group experiences? I’d love to hear about it.
Until next week,