Monday, April 4, 2011

C is For Critique

And Crime + The City Solution

I was talking to my friend Jackie the other day and she asked me how my critique group was going. When I told her it was great, I don't think she completely believed me. Granted, I sometimes don't believe me either, especially since I'm not great at 'not taking it personally' and am really terrible at seeing the constructive in the criticism. I've always been this way. When I think about how, in art school, we'd all wait next to our artwork on crit day, lined up against the wall like we were facing a firing squad, I still get queasy.

But my writing group is amazing. It's all the positive stuff I've heard about groups for years, but never really believed. We're supportive, insightful, smart as hell and encouraging. I started the group after meeting some cool people at a NaNoWriMo write-in. Personally, I can't believe I got so lucky. I have fun at these things, even though I still get butterflies when my work's under the microscope. We have intellectually stimulating conversations for the love of mike - do you know how rare that is with the Caillou watching crowd?

Here are some of the reasons why I think this group works:

1) Everyone has skin in the game. Almost every time we meet, we're giving feedback to everyone in the group. If there is ever an impulse to be less than kind, or less than thoughtful, it's squashed by this fact - you next. You want a well thought out, insightful crit that you can build upon? No problem, just make sure you give one too.

2) It's a small group, only three of us. I think it could grow, but it also works at this size. We all get the chance to know each other and know each other's work/style, strengths and weaknesses. It just makes the feedback richer.

3) We 'kill' the author. Usually, I bring baked goods so that the person being critiqued can shove his/her mouth full of cookie and keep quiet. Only when everyone's had a turn at pros/cons can the author talk.

4) We give an annotated copy of the submission back to the author. Having all that feedback thrown at you is disorientating and, while you take notes, it's hard to keep up.

5) Everyone's got a great sense of humor. That is HUGE. It makes the social aspect of the group possible and welcome. It's absolutely imperative to not take yourself too seriously, and goofing off is a great way to make this happen.

Do you belong to a writing group? What is the best and worst part of being in a writing group?


  1. Sadly, no. I tried joining one last year but it was too big and you receive so many conflicting recommendations. I think your group sounds like a good size really. I'm editing now but on the lookout for critique partners in similar genre in the near future.

    Great C post for A to Z! And lovely to meet you. ;-)

  2. That group sounds fantastic.

    I don't belong to one because of the time factor, but I wouldn't know where to begin to find local people who write in a similar vein.
    The idea of sitting around talking about writing sounds so great, but who the people are would be so key.
    (How many "so's" does it take for me to make a point? Perhaps I need a writing group desperately...)

  3. This is a good one. I belong to two writing groups. They are really supportive places for stories and writers to grow.

  4. Great post (and information about how your critique group runs). I've considered joining a critique group, but what actually holds me back is the thought of hurting someone else's feelings. I'm actually fairly okay at taking constructive criticism, though it depends how vested in the criticized detail I am, I guess, as I could easily see myself trying to convince the other person it's good.

    My cousin once sent me a short story to look over. I wrote her back asking how in-depth she wanted me to go, and she sent me a return email saying to sock it to her, hit the grammar, hit the story, etc. So I gently asked questions about things that I wasn't sure about, or that might be best a different way, but I never even got the chance to even actually critique outside those questions and some grammar corrections before she "gave up" and got hurt. I can't imagine if I'd actually reached the critique part! She obviously wasn't ready to be out there, but it has made me very gun shy.


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