Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 13, 2017

ASK DIANNE – Feedback – Critique Groups

Q: I’m writing on a regular basis now and would like to get feedback on my work. I can’t afford to hire a writing coach or a freelance editor. Any suggestions?

A: My first and best suggestion for getting regular, affordable feedback on your writing projects is to join a local critique group. The cost will primarily be your time, your creative energy, and perhaps the fee to secure a library meeting space or buy a latte at a coffee shop in your community. The potential benefit can be priceless in terms of advancing your craft.

What is a critique group? It is a regularly scheduled meet-up of fellow writers who are willing to read one another’s work and give constructive feedback with the goal of improving everyone’s writing skills. It requires a time and a place to meet each month, and a commitment on the part of all members to make that meeting a true priority. It means you are putting yourself in a creative life raft, helping each other navigate the stormy seas of story development, revision, submission and publication.

I’ve been in seven critique groups over the years. (I’ve moved houses a lot over the past 20 years!) The groups have been as small as three members; as large as fifteen. Some have asked us to read work outside of the meeting itself and others have required a rapid read/response around the table. Some groups have included a brief time for market information to be shared; others only focused on the writing craft. If you find a local group, you’ll want to ask about their feedback procedures, number of members and frequency of meetings. (Most common frequency is twice monthly, BTW.) If you don’t feel that you can make at least 80% of the meetings, this may not be the group for you.

The most efficient and successful critique groups have, in my experience, been made up of writers who are working roughly in the same genre (such as ‘children’s writing’) and at approximately the same skill level. So, don’t be surprised or offended should you be asked to submit a writing sample to a critique group before being asked to visit or join. It’s just a way to make sure everyone is a match…and once you begin reading and evaluating other people’s work, you will quickly see the advantage of having other writers on board who understand the particular type of writing you’re into.

How to find out if there are groups already up and running near you? You can reach out to your local chapter of a national group of writers (in my case, it’s SCBWI for children’s writers) or do a google search for ‘writing groups’ in your community and see what comes up. They may know of a local critique group, and offer to connect you with a member. Have a college in your town? Maybe the someone on the creative writing faculty will know of someone in a group. Ask library or bookstore staffers if they know of local authors you might contact about your search. A little sleuthing just might get you a spot in a critique group.

If you can’t find a group already in existence in your area, you may opt to start one. You can check out the many how-to articles on the internet, of course—but if you prefer to have all the basics in a single resource on your office shelf, I can’t think of a better one than How to Start and Run a Writers’ Critique Group by Carol J. Amato. This 128-page paperback was published in 2006, and while it might be a bit difficult to find on a shelf, its advice is as relevant today as when it first came out. (Here’s the link on amazon.com if you’d like to check out details and reviews: https://www.amazon.com/How-Start-Writers-Critique-Group/dp/0971375682/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496249425&sr=8-1&keywords=start+a+critique+group). The critique group, for me, has been a very important part of my journey as a writer. I highly recommend it! Dianne – send me your questions!

DIANNE’S BIO:

Dianne Ochiltree is a nationally recognized author of books for the very young. Her books have appeared on numerous recommended reading lists, classroom desks and library shelves.  Her bedtime book, LULL-A-BYE, LITTLE ONE, was a selected for the Dollywood Foundation’s childhood literacy initiative, Imagination Library in 2007. Her picture book, MOLLY BY GOLLY! THE LEGEND OF MOLLY WILLIAMS AMERICA’S FIRST FEMALE FIREFIGHTER, received the Florida Book Awards (FBA) Bronze Medal in the Children’s Literature category in 2012 and was chosen for the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer list of feminist literature for girls. Her picture book, IT’S A FIREFLY NIGHT, won the FBA Silver Medal in 2013. Her 2015 title, IT’S A SEASHELL DAY, was given the FBA Gold Medal/Gwen Reichert Award as well as the Gold Medal for Florida picture book from the Florida Authors and Publishers Association. For more information about Dianne’s books, go to http://www.dianneochiltree.com.

Dianne, thanks for sharing your expertise with us. Another great answer.

REMEMBER: To send in your questions for Dianne. Use Kathy(dot)Temean(at)gmail.com. Please put ASK DIANNE in the subject box.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. I’ve thought a bit about doing a critique group, but then I think, “What if they’re critical?”

    You see the problem there? Yeah. When you publish, they’re going to be really critical. Better to get it in a nice private group than a one star review on Amazon, I suppose.

    Which format is better? The one with outside reading, or the one with read the stuff right now and barf out your critique?

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  2. Critique groups are priceless! Another option is to find or create an online crit group. Most forums for authors have a section devoted to critiques.

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  3. I run a platform for private online writing groups (Inked Voices) and help people with matching. A couple other things to add to your post…1) it’s very helpful to find writers who are working at the same pace as you, meaning the group’s members will share comparable amounts of material at a roughly similar frequency (e.g. everyone submits 20 pages monthly, or weekly). 2) And, my experience is that it’s great to find people who are in the same general ballpark of experience as you now, but even more important to find people pointing in the same direction and sharing similar goals. Intermediate tends to be a wide category of writers and often the motivated will catch up. 🙂

    Also consider that there are other types of writing groups — e.g. accountability groups and “shut up and write” groups– that can be helpful. My favorite book on writing groups is Judy Reeves’ Writing Alone, Writing Together. https://www.amazon.com/Writing-Alone-Together-Writers-Groups/dp/1577312074

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