As you all know, I belong to a wonderful critique group. Well. I belong to a critique group that I happen to think is wonderful. I'm sure not everyone would agree with that assessment... in fact, I know of at least one person who left in a bit of a huff because apparently she found the group to be anything but wonderful (I never did find out exactly what the issue was). That, and a couple of conversations I've had with folks over the last...hmmm....when did I join? Six or seven months ago? Surely, it hasn't been that long...
At any rate, I've given some thought to what makes up a good critique group, especially after attending a recent holiday part hosted by one of my fellow writers, who happens to belong to two local writers' groups, one geared towards genre writers (the group I'm a part of) and the other geared toward literary writers. There are a couple of members who belong to both; I don't think I'll ever be one of them, just because there are only so many hours in a day...and I'm not sure the literary group is ready for hot guy on guy action, anyway. ;-)
But... back to critique groups in general. What makes a good group? What makes a less than good group? Why join one in the first place?
Taking that in reverse order:
There are lots of reasons to join a writers' or critique group. My main reason--and the main reason I hear cited most often--is the desire for honest feedback on one's writing. See, Aunt Sally will always tell you how great it is--if I was willing to show Aunt Sally my writing. If she does like it, I don't know that I want to know, but mostly I don't want her knowing what I write...unless she Googles me...but my fictional Aunt Sally is 90 years old and still thinks 8-track players are newfangled devices. DVD player? Heck, she never even owned a beta max. I have little fear of her Googling anything. And before you think I'm making her up out of thin air, no, she looks an awful lot like my great aunt.
Getting constructive, honest feedback on your work is vital for a writer. It keeps me working hard to be better--constantly. There's no chance to fall back on the laurels of a single success if you belong to a critique group.
Being able to get the feedback of six or seven or eight writers whose opinions I both respect and value is, even if it's just on a chapter or two, is--for me--more valuable than getting the feedback of a single beta reader who has time to read an entire novel. Six or seven or eight pairs of eyes are simply better than one--even when half the room loves something and the other half hates the very same thing. I may be the only writer of my genre in the group, but good writing is good writing and bad writing is bad writing, and THAT transcends genre.
One also learns a lot listening to others' critiques of other members' work--and by critiquing other people's work. It is often far easier to pick out mistakes in someone else's work than my own. Not because I think I'm "that good", but because I know my story. My eyes gloss over the mistakes--I draw the lines between the plot threads automatically. Another reader might not. That's part of what I like about having a group of readers go over something. Having those other readers be people I respect means that when they throw out ideas (and oh do they ever), I'm going to at least listen. I may not use every idea...in THIS story... but I might use it later. Someone else will always think of something I never dreamed of...and quite often that something is good.
Another reason to seek out other writers is camaraderie. Indeed, for some, that is the main reason. Some souls want the company of those who understand. And, seriously, only other writers (or at least other creative types) are going to understand what it's like to be a writer. Your friends are going to wonder why you're in front of your laptop instead of out mini golfing with them and your spouse would like to know if maybe you can't clean the gutters THIS weekend, since last weekend, the Muses hit and you didn't emerge from your office (be it a real room or that corner of the kitchen table you horde as yours and yours alone) except to get another cup of coffee for TWO DAYS.
Other writers will understand what you mean when you say things like "my character just totally hijacked my story away from me!"
Other writers will understand when you say you just HAD to get those 7000 words out of your head before you could do anything else, or why you got up in the middle of the night to write that scene that struck at midnight.
Other writers will understand why that commitment to meet with other writers every other week is something you plan the rest of your week around.
I've also found great value in networking with other writers. Although I'm the only person in my group who writes in the m/m erotica genre (or any sort of romance for that matter), I don't get as much use out of it as some of the others, but if they hear of a possible place for me to submit my work, they certainly let me know. I return the favor. We want to see each other succeed.
Simply put, there is tremendous value in peer support.
Quick note: I've started a Q&A group on Good Reads:
because it is considered bad form--or at least a way to get yourself into trouble--to directly interact with reviews/readers...not that I always follow the rules. I figured this would be a "safe" way for people to ask questions, if they had them and for me to answer. (I figure if someone posts a question they do at least honestly expect me *to* answer).
Just a reminder, I'm chatting tomorrow on Good Reads! Please come join me!
I’ll be coming to you from my in-law’s house, chatting live on the Dreamspinner Press Discussion Board (http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/45452.Dreamspinner_Press) from 1pm-6pm Eastern Standard Time (-5 GMT). You have to sign onto the Dreamspinners Press group (and be a Good Reads member) to participate, but both are quick and painless!
I know for most of you Christmas Eve is a time for family get-togethers, horrible holiday sweaters, and Charles Dickens, but if you have a minute, I’d love it if you stopped by to keep me company! I’ll be chatting about my book, future projects, writing, fanfiction … whatever y’all want to talk about.