Critique Groups

I’ve been a part of a number of critique groups over the years, and the one I’m in now is by far the best. We’re a pretty relaxed group, can be honest with one another, handle the truth, and we all get a fair bit out of the critiques.

So for Keycon this year I did a panel on what makes a good critique group. Because I’ve been in some less good ones.

One thing that I really value in this group is the fact that we don’t obsess over spelling and grammar and line edits, to the exclusion of content analysis. When we go over a submission, we start looking at the flow of the scene, character motivations, pacing, the emotional arc, etc. I’ve honestly never had a group that focused so much on that and it’s great. Because anybody can nitpick line edits, but when you’re at an early draft stage, that feedback is so much less useful.

I’ve had groups that obsessed over a specific quirk – one was cliches, and often I’d leave the meeting with nothing but line edits and such and such a line is a cliche, you’ll want to change that. I think part of where the obsession with edits on phrasing and such is because amateur authors, that’s often all they know how to do, and they’ve never had anyone go tear their work to shreds to show them how it could be reconstructed better.

And then there’s groups that don’t follow the standard rules of not interrupting a critiquer or telling them their opinion isn’t valid. I attended a few meetings of one group that the meeting would go on all day because they would spend an hour arguing back and forth, telling one another they were wrong and their work was fine as it was, the person critiquing them just didn’t understand their genius.

That said, the group I’m in doesn’t follow those rules of never interrupting either, but that’s because we follow more of the spirit of the law, to an extend that the letter of the law is less important. If we interrupt one another, it’s usually more along the lines of “Ooh, I didn’t notice that, you’re right!” or “Ooh, I have an idea how I could fix that would X work?” You know – constructive conversation.

This particular group has developed a culture that allows that though. That same constructive culture of the group allows us to get away with being pretty blunt sometimes when we’re delivering honest critiques. We don’t feel the need to coddle one another, and I think the knowledge that we’re all here to help one another turn our work into the best it can be. We all know nothing anyone says is meant to tear anyone else down, but also, we’ve seen our own work evolve through edits and recognize that an early draft is going to have things that can be improved, and the rest of the group is just a second set of eyes for when we’re too close to the material to be objective.

How did I manage to find such a fantastic group?

I didn’t.

I built it. And I’ll go into more detail on that in another post.

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3 responses to “Critique Groups

  1. Building a good critique group like that must be challenging! I just don’t think I have the patience, heh. It takes a lot of buy-in from everyone as well as shared goals, which can be a hard combination to come across. Also, in my experience, it can be a very inefficient process, the way critique groups tend to go about things, and that bugs the hell outta me. In any case, I’m glad you’re benefiting from the group that you’re in. 🙂

    I have not had success with critique groups myself, so I’m giving the whole “recruit a long-distance beta reading squad” a try pretty soon. To be continued…

    • It actually hasn’t been that taxing. One founding member was my best friend, two were from one of the other groups I’d been going to, and the other was one the other two from the other group knew. One of them lived in a retirement home where they had a lovely little library for us to meet in. The most fussy part has been sending out an email monthly and co-ordinating when everyone was available.

      You’re right, the critique process in a critique group can be really inefficient, but there are some good parts too. It can be a motivator to get something written (or edited) in time for the meeting.

      But yeah, the reading one chapter at a time can be slow going. On the other hand, you get to meet other writers and make connections, friends, and see which ones write the same sort of stuff you do, and which ones are good writers and are likely to have good feedback to offer. Then, you can offer a novel trade – you read theirs and they read yours and you trade critiques on the full novel.

      One of our members had a deadline a while back, for sending in the first 30 pages of his novel to an editor. He was going to send it to a copyeditor first, but he brought the first five or so pages to the meeting. We told him to send us the read of the first 30 pages and two of us went over them the next evening. (His book just came out in August.) So yeah, if you settle for restricting critiquing to how the group does it, it might be years before you get all the way through a novel, but building the relationships with like minded people can be invaluable.

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