Friday, March 11, 2011

Forming Critique Groups

Since I first joined a critique group over 6 years ago, my writing has improved immensely! For anyone who's serious about writing, I highly recommend finding one. Not always so easy, though.

Last week I got into an e-mail discussion with Colene Murphy about how our critique groups work and how we met them (and if you don't already know her, you should totally click the link and become acquainted . . . she's a lot of fun!). With her permission, I'm going to share some of our discussion.

How We Met Our Groups

Colene met her group through blogging. She said, "We all connected right around the same time when we started up, we all got close quickly, then we figured out we all wrote YA fantasy. Just clicked!"

I met my current group through the SCBWI Yahoo group for my area. I sent out an e-mail saying I was new to the area and wondered if there were any groups who met near me. One contacted me, inviting me to meet with them and the rest is history.

How We Critique

Because they don't live near each other, Colene meets with her group on Skype once a week, and they take turns submitting 50 pages at a time. She said, "We usually spend about 2 hours on the 50 pages. We go through a chapter at a time and bring up things we think really need to be discussed and ask questions where we need an answer on something. Grammar and little things we don't mention just because it would take so long."

In my group, everyone can submit up to 10 pages every Sunday. We have a week to return our comments via e-mail (we use the "Track Changes" feature of Word). Once a month we meet in person, where we can discuss not only that week's submission, but any other larger concerns we may have. We comment on things from grammar to pacing to plot. Whatever strikes us as we read.

What I Learned

1. If you are ready to find critique partners, there are a lot of ways to do so.
  • Look for other bloggers who write in a similar genre and contact them.
  • Join a national or local writing organization such as SCBWI, RWA, HWKT (shout out to my friends in Kansas City!). They usually will have methods in place to hook you up with other writers in your area.
  • Join some writer's forums such as AbsoluteWrite, QueryTracker, or Verla Kay's. QueryTracker, for example has a forum titled "Critique Group Central" where you can seek out others. On this same vein, I was recently contacted by someone who had seen my query that I posted. Their book was similar, so they e-mailed me and asked if I would be willing to exchange work. I was totally up for it.
Point is, there are a lot of ways to meet potential critique partners. It may not always work out, but you never know if you don't try.

2. Make sure you find a critique method that works for you.
  • Know how much critiquing you are willing to do. Exchanging 50 pages every week might be too much for you. Only ten pages might not be enough. I actually belong to a critique group via e-mail that only exchanges a chapter a month. For some that is enough. For others it's not.
  • Know what kind of critiquing you want. Are you interested in line-edits? Or would you prefer overall comments of what's not working in the plot? Do you want to receive chapters before you meet? Or would it help you more to read your work out loud once you get there?
  • Know how you prefer to receive comments. Do you do best in person? Or would you prefer the impersonal nature of e-mail exchanges? 
In short, know what you want to gain from your critique partners, and know what you're willing to give to them. And if you find that a particular group isn't working for you, you always have the option of gracefully backing out and seeking a new one.

If you are in a group, I'd love to hear how you connected with them and how your group works. So many ways to do it!

If you are looking for a group, or even a single critique partner, please feel free to give a shout-out in the comments. Be sure to mention what genre you write and perhaps the best way to contact you for those who may be interested. Who knows? Perhaps you may find that perfect CP!

Or if you prefer more anonymity, contact me (via my handy-dandy "Contact Me" tab), and I'll do what I can to connect those with common interests.  :)


Julie Jarnagin said...

I actually met my critique partner in the comment section of a blog post about critique partners. So, I definitely think this is a great post!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

My two CPs came via blogging. One found me because ours names are the same. We had just started querying our books (my crit group had just broken up) and ended up swapping. We naturally because CPs after that. One of my regular followers offered to beta read my last project. She's now critting my current one, and she's awesome.

All my beta readers are coming via blogging. We're regulars on each others' sites, and they've asked me if I'd beta read their project or if I would like them to beta read mine. :D

Joanne said...

I have a couple of readers who bring eagle eyes to my work. For me, I value more the broader critiques, looking at character development, themes, rather than line editing. Sometimes it takes that distance of someone not connected to the manuscript to see things that I miss. They're definitely an invaluable part of writing.

Lori M. Lee said...

Awesome post! I like how your critique group works, and I'm so glad you've found one that works for all of you. I was in one last year, but that fizzled really quickly b/c everyone varied too much in work ethic and schedules.

C. Michael Fontes said...

Great post! I am actually developing a site right now that will work like, except for writing buddies. There is a huge need out there for people to get connected with a crit partner, and they don't know where to turn.

Thanks for posting about this; I know people need this info.

Melissa said...

great post!! I'm actually a MEMBER of Colene's crit group! :)
I like having the line edits and little things in the word document and talking about the bigger things on Skype. I don't really like email exchanges as much because you can't REALLY get into it. You know?

Victoria Dixon said...

Thanks for the shout out on behalf of HWKT. ;D I think they're how we got together. I forget how I found an historical group I belong to, but they've been invaluable. You can also find crit buddies at conferences. I found my first crit buddy that way.

Anonymous said...

I don't belong to a critique group but maybe its time I consider it. Me genre is action thriller with a near future sci fi element.

Anonymous said...

Great post Janet. I used to find a writer's group in my area. And my local Writer's Guild announces groups that are looking. It's tricky to find the perfect match, but you've done well finding yours!

Colene Murphy said...

Thanks for the shout out Janet! This was an awesome post on finding crit partners and the importance! Awesome stuff!

Talli Roland said...

These are fantastic tips, Janet. Critique groups are so valuable, and it's so important to get them right.

Tracy said...

I don't have a crit group as much as I have a few betas that I go to with my MS. But I found them all online too. Can be a little tricky though if/when they all seem to wrap up their WIPs and need a reviewer at the same time. Eek!

Missed Periods said...

My critique group is so invaluable to me. There are only three of us, and we meet once every two weeks. It definitely keeps us writing.

Angela Felsted said...

It's interesting to see how everyone does it differently. I guess what matters is that it gets done.