Writers and Critique Groups

For a writer, a critique group can be invaluable. Fundamental, it’s designed for other writers to react and provide feedback to a work. Some groups have strict rules where the author must sit quietly until the critique ends before asking questions. The weekly group I’m in is less formal, allowing and encouraging a back and forth between author and reader.

Three parts are necessary for critique group: The author (critiquee), the readers (critiquers), and the work. The author produces the work and the readers read it and comment.

The work can be fiction or non-fiction. It can be an article, blog post, poem, short story, or part of a longer work. It can even be an outline. The work can be a first draft or a revised draft.

I tend to submit revised works, works that I think are the best I can produce. That way, the critiques are the most useful. I want to hear comments that makes me think, push me to a new level. Likewise, I prefer reading revised works.

Over the course of several submissions, I learned the strong suits of my work’s readers. Some are excellent at grammar, some at structure while others are good at characterization or motivations. When I hear a comment from a reader regarding an area where they’re particularly good, I give it extra weight.

Some readers will try to “rewrite” the story to fit their tastes. A strong signal of this is suggesting different plot points or plot outcomes without having a strong reason why what’s on the page doesn’t work. This is one of the reasons I like to ask “why” about comments. Why did X strike you like that? If I get the sense that a reader wants something different because that’s how he would’ve done it and there’s not a true issue, I tend to let that comment go by unaddressed in a revision.

Further, I add that to my filter for the reader. All of their future comments will go through that filter before I incorporate them into my work. Likewise, if a reader demonstrates a story structure problem with their own submissions and points to a structure issue in mine, I won’t give it much weight. In short, not only do the readers’ critiques build a filter, their own submissions build a filter.

In the end, author must take the critiques, evaluate them, and incorporate what’s useful into the work.

Some authors, however, don’t approach critique groups in a positive manner. Some seek validation, wanting others to say their work is perfect as is. Some want the group to write their story for them. Some want to demonstrate how smart they are. In the end, their writing doesn’t change. That means they either hear the same comments week after week, or no comments because the reader doesn’t waste his time on a story where his comments are being ignored.

These authors tend to leave groups like the one I’m in. Some do so quietly, and other leave with an angry roar. I don’t feel bad about it–I’m giving my best, honest opinion. After all, that’s the stated purpose for why we’re there. I can’t do anything about the fact that it wasn’t what you wanted to hear.

For the writer who wishes to improve, I recommend finding a group where he can receive honest critiques and understand the “why” behind the comments.The goal is to step up to the next level, after all.

I’m interested in many things, from Mars to space travel, music to books, movies to creating my own stories. My sci-fi novel, The Music of Mars, is available now.

About George

I'm interested in many things, from Mars to space travel, music to books, movies to creating my own stories. My sci-fi novel, The Music of Mars, is available now.
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3 Responses to Writers and Critique Groups

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I'll reply to this commenter's points in a private email to provide a larger perspective to this post.

  3. I know all the points Jerry is making here as I've knowing him, been a part of the Saturday group since nearly its inception, before every except Susan herself, and the Reston Writers since its inception, taking over after 4 month. I ran the Books and Essay Writers of Reston and Beyond but decided to merge that back into Reston Writers, shifting Reston from a strictly read-ahead group like the two main Weekend groups to a mainly Read-Aloud group as B&ER&B was. There have been members of my group who have shown an intolerance for criticism and those in other groups to which I'm thinking you're referring. In the later case, I think he is a very nice fellow despite the conflicts and would always wish him well. I used to colour-code my critiques before I reverted to the least-helpful Critiquer ever with no ability to do markup and share it on my dinky, little iPhone whose screen is so small I have to remove my spectacles to read it and which I don't read anyway, having SIRI and iOS text-2-speech instead narrate to me as I drive or do chores because I am a busy individual and this is the smallest bit of time I can currently slice to at least be somewhat helpful to my fellow authors. And it should be fairly noted that I very, very rarely submit pieces because with this and everything else, how could I ever find the time to just write? But I'm also of the opinion that grin-and-bear-it is the best way for an author to take a critique. I was recently accused of being a misogynistic writer based on one of my submissions. Much as this was hurtful to my core I just grinned and said thank you. I think this is the best you can do when you trust the accusation to come from a place of honest impression and not in any way vindictive. When you're told something that is quite contrary to your literary intent it's very jarring as an author to receive but you need to accept that this is the way you've been interpreted and one critiquer could represent 10,000 pairs of eyes who don't have the option of stating their opinion (well, they do, they'll just lambast @TimeHorse up the wazoo thanks to the modern age of connectivity) so I respect that and go to the submitted piece to read the specific comments which drew the reader to this conclusion. I then determined that many of the comments were based on where this reviewer was coming from, in a place sheltered from the culture at large, oblivious to the whole Grrl Power movement and Zena and the strong female archetype that is not a belittling of women as much as a yes, we can trope to bring women higher. But it's fair to say Feminism itself is a very complex issue. Is having a job and kids feminist. Is choosing to be a stay-at-home mom feminist? The truth is, the word itself means different things to different people, and as such the opposite is also true. If Misogynist is the antithesis of Feminist, then just the feminism means different things to different people, so Misogynism means different things to different people. This doesn't make anyone wrong, it's just something the author needs to be aware of when she considers her audience. And as someone who was personally, effectively kicked out of his own writing group, I'm happy to say I choose to associate with the people I like and those who don't want to associate with me can go f@#$^% themselves. I will survive.

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