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What makes for the perfect critique group or crit partner?
Ellie Isis
Posted: Sunday, March 6, 2011 4:13 PM
Joined: 3/4/2011
Posts: 60

I'm fortunate to have found a fabulous critique group in my home town. We have a variety of writers at different levels of expertise, but each one has unique strengths to add to the critiques. For example, one is fabulous with fight scenes and general choreography. Another is great at world building. A third member has a knack for dialogue. While we may not share the same interests, we all contribute valid points.

What qualities make for the perfect critters in your eyes?

Posted: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 12:42 AM
Joined: 3/7/2011
Posts: 10

I'm very lucky to have an intelligent and talented group of people in my class. I've found it very difficult to find good writers' groups up to now, aside from one wonderful workshop that meets only once every three months. Unfortunately, the class structure is the only structure we have, so when we don't have class we don't get together. I'm trying to change that. Worst crit groups ever: mutual admiration societies and that group where everybody thinks they're the best and everybody else is shi
Posted: Thursday, March 10, 2011 2:21 AM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 15

To be honest I haven't had a peer crit group since HS Creative Writing. My social anxiety disorder crested just after High School ended and I found it hard to speak up in class about normal topics never mind put myself out there with stuff I wrote. The only crit partner I have is my sister--we critique each other's writing. And its the only area that I'm brutally honest with her (she's more loose with her honesty on any number of topics). I want to join a group, but a) I got no idea how to f
Ellie Isis
Posted: Thursday, March 10, 2011 2:37 AM
Joined: 3/4/2011
Posts: 60

Hey, you got cut off, but from what I saw, you aren't sure how to find a good group. I found mine through my state's writing association. FWA (Florida Writers Association) has groups scattered across the state. I tried several of the local branches and stuck with the one that most fit my needs.
Posted: Saturday, March 12, 2011 10:07 PM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 157

Hey Ellie, where in Florida are you? I'm in Orlando. Though I've left the FWA. Our local group just wasn't to my taste.

I've worked with a variety of critique groups and partners. Right now I'm lacking the perfect group, but even imperfect groups can still be helpful. My best critique experience was working with a close friend who knew my writing style and my weaknesses. She was the friend who would tell me "Nice chapter, Well written. Are you aware nothing happened in it?" We kept up critiquing for a while after she moved, but eventually found ourselves working with more local groups.
Ellie Isis
Posted: Sunday, March 13, 2011 3:24 PM
Joined: 3/4/2011
Posts: 60

Marie, I'm in Celebration, so not far from you at all. If you're interested in joining us, let me know and I'll give you details.
Posted: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 9:01 PM
Joined: 3/15/2011
Posts: 15

Personally, I prefer online critique groups to in-town ones. Partly because it's easier on the schedule, and you don't have to constantly be juggling the calendar to figure out when half a dozen people can manage to come together for an hour or two every other week.

I was in a group out in NYC for a year or two and found the thing a group definitely needs is a solid leader. Someone who takes charge and gives the marching orders. That way less time is wasted quibbling over who gets reviewed next when, when/where you're meeting, etc. Having them guide the meeting also keeps hours from being lost on idle conversation.
Posted: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 10:39 PM
Joined: 3/15/2011
Posts: 10

I'm part of a fantastic online YA crit group but still haven't had much success in finding a long term partner/group for my adult work.

I have to agree that online groups are a lot easier since people can participate as time permits even when on the go with a bit of time to kill.
Tara Kollas
Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 1:37 AM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 19

My only workshop experience has been with the SFF Online Workshop. When you're posting an entire novel, it can have its ups and downs, because you don't know who will give you crits from one chapter to the next. But I can say I've gotten fantastic feedback, and my MS wouldn't be anywhere close to what it is without that advice and help. I also found two fantastic beta/writing partners through dumb luck and good timing on another forum. I work full time and have three kids. I would love to go talk with writers in a social setting, but at this point, it's pretty much a no-go.
Ellie Isis
Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 2:00 AM
Joined: 3/4/2011
Posts: 60

What makes our in-person group work is that we hold a meeting every Wednesday, but people come on whatever Wednesdays they are available. We have three "key masters" so someone is always on hand who can unlock the meeting site. I go pretty much every week, but some come every two weeks or once a month.

We do have a strong leader, also, who organizes pieces for critique, keeps the responses to set time limits, and so forth.
Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 4:48 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 8

You have to keep trying with the critique group or partner...it takes a while to find the perfect fit. Once you do, it's invaluable. My critique partner and I are two peas in a pod and we shred each other's writing on a regular basis. You have to work up to that, though. It doesn't happen over night. She and I met on the Nathan Bransford forums.

If you're in it to learn and have your work seriously scrutinized, you have to find someone whose writing is on par with yours. You also need to share a similar work ethic and sense of humor helps, too. My critique partner and I both write in the same genre (women's fiction, contemporary romance), but our writing styles are quite different--that keeps things interesting, but neither of us is out of our element when critiquing the other's work.

Robert Dean
Posted: Thursday, March 17, 2011 4:31 AM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 6

I can't do the crit group thing. I'm down for editing partners, but beyond that, I am a solitary creature with my writing. I just can't break things down correctly for people. I either sound mean, wrong or just stupid.
Posted: Friday, March 18, 2011 4:43 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 103

I belong to a fantastic critique group. Its members are at varying levels of experience, many of them published, and everyone has a distinct style and perspective. The unfortunate part is the group is fairly large (20 people) and mostly poets so the amount of words a writer can bring in at one time is limited. That works out great for the poets but not so great for those of us looking for critique on bigger picture issues in our novels. Recently I've found a great partner in a newer member who writes in the same genre as me. Our relationship is still forming but I'm confident that it will be a great one.

That being said, I think a great online critique group is invaluable because the feedback is probably going to be more honest. The real trick is assembling enough people who are able to give a constructive critique. So far my experience with this site has been encouraging.
Posted: Monday, March 21, 2011 3:51 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 245

For me, it comes down to contribution and care.

You can't just put your stuff up there expecting people to crit your work but not reciprocate. I know I could do better with that here on BC. But I was in a group once where the two different pieces I put up (we were only required to post something to the yahoo group monthly) got no feedback yet I'd critted every piece they'd put there.

When I say care, I mean careful reading for both the good and bad. It doesn't work to only harp on the negatives when critting someone's work. If I don't know what I'm getting right, I might struggle that much more to figure out how to fix the problem areas. This isn't a hurt-feelings issue. It's a constructive critique issue.

If you can find crit buddies who will stick by you for the longer run and who get both the contribution and care aspects of that relationship, you're golden.
Posted: Sunday, March 27, 2011 12:08 AM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 216

I'm having my book looked over by a book doctor -- one with an extensive background in marketing. If my content doesn't resonate with the specific audience I have in mind, it really doesn't matter if I write beautifully or terribly, right?

I'm much more of a "Follow these instructions" type of writer. Editor tells me what to do; I do it. I'm not sure that just one critique partner would suffice, because as everyone has pointed out, tastes are very subjective. I'd have to have an objective critique partner to feel comfortable with his or her comments -- someone who'd read numerous genres and who can slip into the mindset of "Average American Reader."

Similarly, I critique from a great distance. I don't need to connect with the story or the characters. If something is well-written, I'll enjoy reading the book, because I'm a total sucker for good craftsmanship. This, too, has its advantages, because pretty sentences distract me.
Posted: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 2:18 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 34

One of the nice? interesting? things about our group (Ellie's!) is that at this point we all know each other well enough that we pretty much dispense with praise.

We don't waste time on soothing each others feelings anymore -- pretty much if we DON'T point something out, it means we like it. (That's not to say that nobody ever says anything nice, but we focus on what needs improvement!)

To an outsider, the banter in our group probably comes off as harsh, and I can think of one specific example where I believe we frightened off a potential new member who hadn't even submitted. (Ellie, I'm thinking here of kites)

But for us, it makes things very efficient, both in the giving (no more "sandwiching", casting about for nice things to say) and the taking. I can't even put into words how much I have learned. (That's kind of a writer-pun!)

I don't know how you would start a group like that. Ad in the paper?

I think a certain amount of continuity is important, because you have to really know each other. Once a month is probably not enough. Flexibility is important, because you can't feel held-hostage. Small-ish size is important, I think: Marcie you might want to consider branching off with a few like-minded writers. But at least it seems like you have a start, there.

We meet in the same spot every week and it's public --no one has to host it. Don't know whether that matters. (Might make it easier the first time -- I think folks feel uncomfortable barging in to a stranger's home)

We also focus -- except for important news (brief agent info, contest info) we don't waste time with speakers, book reviews, guest authors, coffee, idle chit-chat (well, I'm pretty bad, actually, and have to be sat upon) but you catch my drift. We're there to CRITIQUE!

(Summer evenings we meander out to local coffee/wine bar afterwards -- very nice. We've become friends.)

Last point in my diatribe: we do help each other with ideas. "How can I get my character over from the stairs, thru the flooded kitchen and into that locked room with tiara?" "Oh! Have him build a bridge with those frozen hams and pick the lock with an icicle!" Etc.

Am I describing us accurately, Ellie?

Posted: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 2:38 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 34

Oh -- one last point. (sorry -- now you can see why they have to sit on me)

We don't all write/read the same stuff. One poet, coupla YA, mostly SF-ish. I definitely wouldn't CHOOSE to read some of the genres that I crit there. But we put in 2000 word chunks at a time, and I can get thru that.

And good writing is good writing, I think. We look for clarity, tightness, pace, passive-ness, confusion, tropes, voice, character, blah blah blah. All important in any MS, right?

Franci, if you got TOO annoyed by my wacky SF x-world, I would actually want to know about it: where and why it made you cringe. I don't want to do that to any reader.

I try hard to be helpful to our poetry writer, though I admit, I'm not sure I am. But I look at it this way: if I understand what she's driving at, ANYONE will!

Ellie Isis
Posted: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 10:21 PM
Joined: 3/4/2011
Posts: 60

Yeah, I'd say that's pretty accurate.

We do put our work in several days in advance by email. We actually crit it at home, then discuss the crits in person so the writers can ask questions afterward.

I will say, though, that if we could get some guest authors in to speak, that would be fun, once in a while. But yes, we're there to critique.
J Boone Dryden
Posted: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 1:43 PM
Joined: 5/7/2011
Posts: 42

Having run a critique group (in some form or another) for nearly eight years, I have found that there are a few things that make a truly great group and truly great critiquers.

1. Knowledge: writers must read, and thus a good critique person is someone who not only reads for pleasure but reads for knowledge, technique, and craft. Thus they bring that knowledge to the table when they review another member's piece.

2. Understanding: not only does a writer -- perhaps the one being critiqued -- need to know that they must only ever compare their work to their own work, a critiquer must know this, too, and must always strive to treat each new critique as a unique, isolated entity when it comes to thoughts. Works-in-progress are not published works (as obvious as that sounds), but some people forget that.

3. Tact: being "brutally honest" is neither helpful nor encouraging. We have lost more than our fair share of writers because of this mishap. It's okay to disagree, to suggest copious revisions, or to even completely dislike a piece; it's not okay to denigrate or chastise or condescend when it comes to critiquing another's piece. Say things tactful but truthfully, and you'll gain respect.

These things are what has kept my current group together for nearly five years. I think there is a lot that goes into a critique outside of these three things, but these are the basics. They're important because I think they're sometimes overlooked.

Also, if anyone is in the Milwaukee area on June 4, I'll be giving a discussion on this very topic at length at WriteCamp. Sorry for the plug, but it seemed apt
Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Monday, June 25, 2012 11:38 AM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 356

Bumping this up for the new people!


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