"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
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Monday, November 25, 2013

The Pros and Cons of Critique Groups for Today's Writer


---"He loves me. He loves me not."---

In my efforts to help you know more and grow more, I'm pleased to share today's great post on the advantages and disadvantages of critique groups, presented by award-winning blogger, Sarah Webb.
In all my years of writing, I've never "officially" belonged to one, but have been contemplating starting one to reap some of the benefits mentioned within this guest post.

Please share your questions and comments with Sarah, on this enlightening read.
Personal note: I had great difficulty with formatting this post due to Blogger issues and technical glitches this morning; I extend my apologies. Hopefully the structure won't compromise your reading experience or the value of this piece. 


STRENGTH IN NUMBERS?
Read how Critique Groups Stack up from Sarah's perspective...

Open Critique Groups

I’m currently part of an open critique group in my area that I discovered on Meetup.com, and the name says it all. These groups are literally open to the public and have no restrictions or qualifications for age, genre, experience, participation, attendance, group size, or anything else. They typically have some type of protocol for how to conduct their meetings, but have very few rules in general beyond common courtesy.

PROS:
    ·
    Flexibility- You can attend whenever it’s convenient, and you’re free to experiment with the kind of writing you share. There’s no pressure, which many new writers seem to appreciate. 
    ·
    Diversity- You’ll get a large variety of writing and perspectives.
    ·
    Networking- You’re guaranteed to meet the most people in this type of group, so if your goal is to expand your network, this is a major perk.
CONS:
  • Questionable Feedback- Because there’s no guarantee of who’s going to attend each session, there’s no guarantee about the quality of the critiques you’ll receive.
  • Fluctuating Numbers- Sometimes there will be too many people to allow everyone to participate or give their comments. Other times there won’t be enough people.
  • Lack of Trust- I’ve heard people complain about having to share their work at meetings where there are a lot of new people they don’t know. Since the work presented to a critique group is still developing, you may feel more secure sharing it with people you trust.
Closed Critique Groups

I’m sure you’re not surprised to learn that closed groups are the opposite of open groups. They usually have a cap on the number of members and maintain other entrance requirements such as fees, writing samples, “by invitation only” admittance, genre restrictions, etc.

PROS:
  • Consistency and Control- You can maintain certain standards, which might guarantee good feedback. You can also handpick the members so that group dynamics work well.
· Accountability- There’s also more accountability to ensure that you’re continually growing in your craft. Unlike open groups, where you may end up lost in the crowd, closed groups can become pretty close knit.
 
· Specialization- Closed groups may allow you to really focus on the type of writing you’re most interested in.

 
CONS:  
  • Getting In- You may not be able to get into the group you want to join. This can be rectified, however, by starting your own group. 
· Limited View Point- There’s always the possibility that closed groups are missing out on an interesting perspective. There may be a great potential member who can’t afford the monthly fees. There’s also the fact that sometimes the best feedback comes from people who don’t write in your genre, or who may be new to writing but happen to be great readers. 
 
Virtual Critique Groups
 
In addition to being in an open group that meets in person, I’m currently combining the virtual element with the critique partner. The thing about virtual groups is that you can use email, a webcam, or a combination of the two. The pros and cons depend on which you choose.

PROS:
· Save Time- Simply not having to commute to a physical location at a specified time can make life more efficient.  
· Not Limited to Local Members- A huge plus is being able to work with writers from anywhere in the world.
 
CONS:
· Lacks Personal Interaction- Email critiques lack real-time conversation and face to face interaction. The feedback is often delayed and you won’t be able to benefit from the back and forth that happens in a live group.
· Size Limitations- Even though Google+ allows multiple people to have a virtual meeting, it becomes cumbersome after a certain number of people. Skype is even more limited.
· Technical Glitches- Even if everyone in the group has premium internet service, you will still run into tech problems at some point.
Critique Partner
 
A critique partner consists of only two people who share their writing and offer feedback.
 
PROS:
  • Simplicity- Here you have the greatest flexibility because only two people have to find consensus on meeting times, review methods, etc. 
    • · Comfort- Partners easily develop trust and get to know each other pretty well as writers and as people.
       
      CONS: 
  • Limited View Point- The perspective you get on your writing is the most limited here. Because of this, I suggest that you partner with someone who tends to have very different ideas than you. There ideas don’t have to be contrary, but different enough, so that they can see things in your manuscript that you might not.
 
One final point about critique groups is that they should not get in the way of actually writing. Writing is such a solitary endeavor, so I highly recommend that you at least try a critique group, but I also warn against spending more time talking about writing than you actually spend writing.
What have your experiences been with critique groups? If you haven’t joined one, are you considering it?

BIO:
Sarah L. Webb is the Internet Content Coordinator for a local TV station. She writes in many genres and is the creator of




 

8 comments:

  1. Thank you Jennifer for hosting Sarah. She makes valid points. I have been a member of three critique groups over the years. The last one I hand selected and couldn't be happier as each of us brings our unique perspective. Someone visited once and said, "You are all so positive!" Critiques should be helpful and supportive.

    My first group lasted twelve weeks, was diverse, but disbanded because members moved away. The second group was not conducive to feedback as one member monopolized.

    But this one consists of five women who meet twice a month. We are a cohesive group who call ourselves Wild Women Wielding Pens (the WWWPs). I wrote a story about us which was published in Chicken Soup Just Us Girls.

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    1. My pleasure, Linda. I'm glad that your current group has worked out well; unfortunately that isn't always the case. :-) Thanks so much for your time and valuable input today.

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  2. Jennifer--Critique groups should offer critique--but in a supportive way. The first critique group I was in was a mutual admiration society. Everything we shared was "wonderful" and "great" and nothing ever needed to be changed or tweaked...according to them.

    The group I'm currently in (the same group as Linda O'Connell) gives me constructive criticism. Places that I need to slash and burn--they're giving me suggestions. We laugh so much we snort and dampen our panty liners, we vent, and we grow as writers...

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  3. Sioux,

    I like your point here--which is one of the reasons I was reluctant to join one. Many times I think people are too afraid to be "critical" when in these groups, or they're "too critical" to be constructive. :-) Obviously your group has a good balance and does well, based upon the Chicken Soup publishing record! Thanks for chiming in today.

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  4. What a great thing you shared here for groups. Both pros and cons looks like good to me and easy to follow.

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  5. Thank you for this simple and straightforward review of writing partner(s). What I've found is that the type of partnership that benefits me the most depends upon the stage of my writing. In the initial stages (idea/outline), an intimate setting with other writers who are able to give positive encouragement serves me best. By the time I've gone through first, second, third, etc. drafts, the partnership need not be as intimate and the advice/analysis need not be as heavily weighted on the encouragement scale. However, regardless of the stage, I need honest, respectful, and positive analysis.

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    1. Jennifer Brown BanksApril 10, 2015 at 5:02 AM

      Ann,

      Thank you for sharing your perspective. I value your input. :-)

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  6. Interesting post! Thank you for sharing.

    I think that there are two kinds of critique groups whether they're virtual or in-person. Either motivational critique groups, which only finds what's good in the work, or groups that are beyond hand-holding and shred work to pieces. I prefer the second, because if I'm not able to take a punch, how is putting work in front of thousands of merciless strangers something I'd ever want to do?

    This is why I like critique groups that are made of published authors. They know what it's like and don't hold back. They also have some juicy stories of things they learned the hard way, and hopefully pitfalls I can avoid.

    I find this easiest on member-online communities such as Scribophile (it takes some networking but they're there), and sometimes even in-person. I am lucky enough to have an in-person group that has published authors. They're not sickeningly famous but they have been around the block, and that's all one needs for a healthy perspective.

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