Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Suggestions for writing groups and critique partners (Part Two)

On Monday, I talked about writing groups and some ways to set yourself up for success. Several of you asked questions, such as:

What do you think about online groups versus local get-togethers?
I think both offer benefits, and there's really no reason to have to choose. I'm in both, but I live in a major metropolitan area, Kansas City, and have that luxury. If you live in, say, Corn, Oklahoma, face-to-face meetings might not be possible without a bit of a drive.

I'm a member of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) and a group of us get together on the second Saturday of every month. Sometimes we critique for each other, and it's certainly an environment where you could build those kinds of relationships. But mostly we get together just to enjoy each other. To enjoy being with other writers, to talk about writing with people who "get it," and to learn from one another.

Through being in that group, I became close to Sally Bradley. There's a Starbucks between our houses, so we occasionally meet there to brainstorm and write. It's a lot of fun; a great mix of socializing and racking up words.

But also I have Roseanna White, who lives in Maryland. She and I exchange full manuscripts and are deeply involved in each other's writing process. Roseanna is basically wonder woman and has three other critique partners besides me. I've found that I really only have time to be a good critter for one person.

Some brilliant writers say having a group is important because that way you can get several opinions about whether something is working. Other brilliant writers say a group is too much trouble, that you can get too many opinions, and you should really only have one person. I say there's a time for everything. At one point in my writing journey, having the group and various opinions was good and helped me grow. But now, since I have an agent, an editor, and a copy editor, I'm fine with just one.

No one asked this question on Monday, but it's one that comes up so I'll answer it anyway. Should you try to find critique partners who write the same genre you do?

Maybe I'm unusual in this, but I think it works better when you don't write the same genre. My worst crit group experience actually came from a YA writers crit group. When I received The Call that the Skylar Hoyt series had sold, they were the ones who showed the least enthusiasm for me.

Speaking from experience, it's easier to be happy for someone who sees success in a different genre. When it happens to someone who writes the same thing you do, there's a sensation (in me, at least) of "Why them and not me?" and/or "That's one less spot on the shelf for my book..."

Where does one find a writing or critique group?
For me, it's been writing conferences and being a member of a writing organization, like ACFW. There's also RWA (Romance Writers of American), SCBWI (Society of Childrens Books Writers and Illustrators) and a bunch of others. It costs me $45 a year to be a member of ACFW, but the networking it's afforded me has made it completely worth it. And it's how I not only met my writing friends, it's how I acquired both my agents.

The lovely and talented Katy McCurdy said she found her writing group on My Book Therapy, which is run by Susan May Warren (who I want to be when I grow up) and Rachel Hauck (who's also unbelievably talented and can really rock the microphone.) They have a great community of writers over there.

Also, ahem, we have something of a community here on Go Teen Writers. Now, I have no interest in being involved in a group, but I wouldn't mind putting a list of names and email addresses together of people who are interested in finding critique partners. So if you want, you can send me an email at Stephanie(at)GoTeenWriters(dot)com and let me know you're interested in finding a writing partner or group. I'll send out a group email to everyone who contacts me, and what y'all do from there is your business.

Any tips for moderating a writing group?

1. Make up guidelines for the group that talk about constructive criticism and how critiques will be exchanged.

2. Consider creating a template of how you write up critiques. Like instead of having people do line edits, maybe have them provide feedback on three to five specific areas. (Like plot, characters, overall readability, conflict, dialogue, or whatever else your heart fancies.)

3. In meetings, use a timer. That way everyone has a fair allotment of time. And a buzzer will sound, which keeps you from always having to be the one who interrupts and says, "Okay, now it's Jamie's turn." They'll get used to the timer, will know they need to finish up their thought, and then move on to the next person's.

1 comment:

  1. Would you believe I've never had a face-to-face critique? Probably because I live in the MD equivalent of Corn. ;-) And when I do end up with my critters at a conference, we're way more interested in hugging than in critting.

    That said, phone calls are always an option for that "live" feeling. Though those of us with screaming kids in the background usually opt for email. Also works better when you're on a looser time frame, so that everyone can crit at her own pace.

    Wonder Woman out