Writing is an activity that tends to be pretty solitary. Most writers enjoy that. I know that I do. What’s better than grabbing a brand-new notebook, a laptop, or even a napkin, and retreating into your own creative head until you lose yourself in your character’s world and don’t come out again until you need something to eat?
I also hate talking, unless it’s about important things. Like writing, of course. The idea of small talk basically makes me want to retreat into my writer’s cave and never come out. At the same time, I need some kind of feedback besides the blank stares from my cat.
So, after years of writing alone in my office, I decided to seek out a writer’s group. I went to meetup.com and was immediately overwhelmed and underwhelmed. I live outside a decent sized city so there were different groups with different priorities. Some were organized while others were just chaos.
This post deals with the different types of groups that I checked out and what I liked and didn’t like about them. I plan to write some more posts pertaining to the good points and bad points of critique groups, so be sure to stay tuned.
On to the groups…
A Group that focuses on just writing – These groups are usually pretty easy going and they meet someplace cozy where you can work on your writing as others around you are doing the same thing. The group near me meets every Saturday for coffee at Panera Bread, or at the library, and spends up to three hours just writing on their laptops. No one has to offer up what they are working on and it’s pretty relaxing. It’s kind of cool to look around and see everyone tapping away on their projects while you are doing the same. It’s a sense of camaraderie without the criticism. Sometimes they do little events where the whole group tries to get to a certain word count or just to finish a chapter by the end of the week. This is a good group format for an introvert or a person who wants to ease into a writer’s group without the pressure of being critiqued.
A Group that focuses on just reading your work – Warning, if you hate public speaking like I do, this may not be the group for you. However, if you want to work on your reading voice and just hear your work, this may be the right group for you. I went to a few meetings with a group that was strictly reading with the smallest amount of criticism afterwards. Each person would bring in about ten copies of their work to give to the group and the group would read along silently as you read aloud. You would read for about five to ten minutes, so only a few thousand words. Most of the comments were very positive, and this was the problem. How quickly can you digest the work in front of you if you only have ten to fifteen minutes to read it? Not that I want to be torn apart, but there was no real criticism. This was a good group for an ego boost, though.
Which leads me to, the critique group that I stayed with.
A Group that uses email to distribute an author’s works and then discusses it in person – The group I’m in meets once a week, although sometimes less depending on the weather and various obstacles. Two authors submit their work and the rest of the group has a whole week to critique it. There is a limit to the number of pages submitted and the group can’t just say “this is good,” or “this is bad.” While everyone is pleasant, our critiques are like a sandwich. The first layer is the good things in the piece. The middle is the things that need to be worked on, and the final layer is another good thing.
At first, this was nerve racking to me. The rules of the group are that the author being critiqued has to be silent while they are being critiqued but they can talk afterwards. You can take notes while you’re being critiqued too. You do get the chance to ask questions after the critique, which is helpful. The nice part of the group is that you don’t even have to submit if you don’t want to, so if you are really anxious about being the center of attention, or think you aren’t ready, you don’t have to share your work. I submitted my first work after about two meetings and that leads me to my next topic…
The first critique group I went to almost ended in a fist fight. (Or how not to get upset at your first writer’s group critique). Hope you will join me again for this series.