“No legacy is so rich as honesty.” ~ William Shakespeare
The support of a good critique group is a priceless asset for an author.
Having your work critiqued is not a “bad” or “negative” situation. On the contrary, good critique colleagues help you to develop your writing, your ideas, your form and much more. I have been lucky with my group. It took me forever to get started, but once I did, it was wonderful. Right now, there are three of us while our fourth member is on “sabbatical.” We meet religiously every month and I’m proud to say, we haven’t missed one month in a little over three years that we’ve been together. We work around our schedules. And the nicest part is that we’ve become friends who understand each other and accept each other’s critique. Sometimes they’ll spot the most ridiculous thing in my writing that I didn’t see.
Some Tips about Organizing a Good Group:
First of all make sure that you are compatible, like each other and accept each other’s critiquing whether negative or positive. The critique group is similar to a long term relationship. If you don’t get along, then get out and find a group that you like and they in turn like you.
It is very awkward to have a member who, for example, is always negative and gets insulted with another member’s comments regarding his/her work. It’s like having a rotten apple in the apple cart. No matter what you say, their reaction is defensive which then will turn to offensive toward the other members. I speak from experience. An ex-member literally threw another author’s manuscript across the table at him because she didn’t like his comments. Not good. This is when you kindly and with a smile…always smile…show him/her the door
Focusing on the significant aspects of the work you are judging is essential. Don’t get bogged down on one word for twenty minutes. Years ago, I belonged to a critique group where we spent twenty minutes arguing if the bird twittered or chirped. Not good. The moderator should say: “Enough. Let’s move on.”
Another important feature is to keep the group small, five members at the most, and make sure they don’t mix works. This is our group’s view. There are some successful groups that are larger and mix genres. If it works for you, go ahead. But with a smaller group you have more time to exchange ideas and discuss the critiquing. Mixing genres never worked for me. I felt I was short changing, for example, the poet since I don’t know how to write poetry and I felt I was short-changed with the critique of my suspense novel. It’s hard to give a fair critique on a genre that you’re not familiar with and I don’t think the group benefits either.
How do I find a good critique group that suits me? It’s not always easy. Look to your local library, your state’s writer’s association, online, by word of mouth and chances are you’ll find a good group. When you feel that you’ve found one, before you join, ask how they organize their meetings, find out their rules, ask if you can attend a meeting and then decide whether or not this group is for you. Remember, they are critiquing your efforts as you critique theirs. There has to be trust and a liking for each other.