In today’s Journal
* Quote of the Day
* Topic: 12 Ways to Make a Critique Group Work
* Daily diary
* Of Interest
* The numbers
Quote of the Day
“I don’t think in terms of genres. I think in terms of story.” David Gerrold
Topic: 12 Ways to Make a Critique Group Work
Versions of this article have been posted on my writer site in August 2013 and September 2017.
Everyone here knows I don’t participate in critique groups. Nor do I recommend doing so. After all, I constantly battle to keep my own conscious, critical mind out of my writing. So why in the world would I invite other critical voices in? Duh.
Criticism (or critique) by definition is a function of the conscious, critical mind. It’s wonderful for “deconstruction,” but worthless for creation.
However, I also know every writer is different. And this Journal exists to serve all writers.
So if you want to form or join a critique group, here are some ways to at least minimize the harm your critique group might otherwise inflict on your writing.
First, if you want to join an established critique group,
* pick one that has not degenerated into a mutual-admiration society, and
* pick one that has safeguards in place against a piece of work eventually being written by committee. You will see those safeguards below.
If you want to form or participate in a critique group that stands at least a chance of actually being beneficial, here’s what the group needs:
1. A conscientious facilitator who will steer the participants to honesty in their critiques.
A critique group without a facilitator usually will degrade quickly into a mutual-admiration society, a group in which flattery is trump. A “be nice to me and I’ll be nice to you” atmosphere causes the participants to feel good about themselves, but it also leaves them wondering about the quality of their writing.
2. Limit the size of the group according to the length of time you are able to meet.
In my own distant past, there were ten participants in my critique group. We met for two hours every other week. Each participant had time to read her work (if she wanted to) and receive the critiques of the other participants.
3. Remember that only one person at a time is the writer in the group.
If you aren’t reading your work to the others at the time, you’re a reader/listener, not a writer. Don’t endeavor to change the person’s writing to fit your style. Rather, point out places where, for you as a reader/listener, the story stumbles or stalls, where you feel you don’t know enough about a character or a scene, where confusion creeps in, and so on. (In other words, function as a first reader. See below.)
4. Don’t require everyone to read every time.
Take off your control-freak boots, flex your tired toes and chill. Everyone can be an active, valuable participant without reading at every meeting. Some people will want to read every time, and others won’t.
5. However, the members all should be serious about the craft of writing.
To maintain membership in the group, I suggest that everyone should be encouraged to submit something for critique at least every other meeting if you meet monthly or every third meeting if you meet more often. Again, though, notice I said “encouraged,” not forced.
However, non-participation (say one member very seldom reads her own work and very seldom comments constructively as a reader/listener) should be grounds for dismissal from the group, especially if there’s a waiting list of folks who are serious about the craft of writing and would like to join.
6. Be honest in your critiques.
This is the most important feature of a good critique group. Honesty, even brutal honesty, is critical.
After the first few sessions, any hurt feelings will subside and those who prefer the mutual-admiration society will have dropped out. The participants who remain will begin to trust each other and appreciate the honest feedback. Besides, “honest” is not synonymous with “hurtful,” “hateful,” “spiteful” or “mean.”
7. Always provide positive critiques.
But didn’t I just say you should be honest? That’s right, so when you point out what you believe is a flaw in someone’s writing, make it a positive critique by offering a recommendation for improvement. Remember, though, that you’re trying to help the writer improve HER work, not make it your own. Besides, you should point out the bright spots as well as the flaws.
8. Bring your “first draft” to your group.
I recommend that your second draft should be a run-through with a spell checker. And a third draft should be your original manuscript to which you’ve applied whatever changes your first reader has recommended IF YOU AGREE with those recommendations.
But if you’re in a critique group, you probably don’t have a first reader and probably still believe you have to write numerous drafts to turn out quality work (you don’t).
So at least give the members of your group your most original effort (your “first draft”).
9. Perform “blind” readings.
If honest critique is the most important feature of a good critique group (and it is), performing blind readings is a close second. Although this advice goes against the common practice of most critique groups, I advise against the author providing copies of her work for the other participants.
Instead of trying to read along with the reader, during a blind reading the other participants should be able to listen attentively, noting on a pad any passages that confuse them, stop them cold, or impress them. They might also note passages that either bog the story down or move it along too quickly.
Once the author is finished reading, each participant then offers his or her critique. Blind reading and note-taking lessens the chance of participants “parroting” each other and leads to a more honest, constructive critique. It also forces the reader to read his or her work aloud, and that is always a good thing.
10. The facilitator should avoid influencing the other participants’ opinions. To do so, the facilitator should offer his or her critique last.
11. Don’t argue with critiques as they’re offered.
Arguing is a non-productive waste of valuable time. Besides, you should respect the opinions of the participants as listeners/readers; that is, don’t expect more from them than they can give. If they were experts, they probably wouldn’t be in the group.
12. Consider every participant’s critique.
Don’t automatically accept or reject any critique. What one listener (reader) likes, another will dislike; what one finds believable, another will find ridiculous.
Carry the critiques home with you, calm down, then use or discard the criticisms one at a time at your leisure. As a rule of thumb, though, if you hear the same critique from more than one participant (after a blind reading), you probably should consider it more seriously.
Note: There are also online critique groups. They don’t meet in person, but exchange manuscripts or bits of manuscripts online. For one example of this, see today’s “Of Interest.”
Okay, but if I don’t recommend critique groups generally, what do I recommend?
* Learn from blog posts, lectures and workshops by writers who are much farther along the road than you are. Preferably long-term professional fiction writers.
* Read voraciously for pleasure in your genre(s) (again, by those long-term professionals). Then, if a book blows you away, go back and re-read that segment with an eye to studying what the writer did to blow you away.
* Trust Yourself. Trust your characters. Write the story. Then
* send it to a first reader (whose task is only to be a reader, not a critiquer),
* apply the changes recommended by the first reader if you agree with them,
* submit or publish the story, and
* write the next story.
I hope this helps.
As I expected, I finished clearing the bay next door to the Hovel yesterday morning. (Mona pitched in to help for awhile.) It took a little longer than I expected it to take—four and a half hours—which at my current age and level of health is a full physical work day. (grin) When I finished, I was all but exhausted.
Next will come the less-arduous task of moving several stored items from the Hovel to the bay. Then stage three: arranging my office. It will all happen in due time.
After we both showered and relaxed a bit, Mona and I returned to finish viewing the vids for the Learn Along. Much of what we saw was a recap, but we still learned more. Excellent stuff.
Oddly (maybe) it fired me up about writing even more than usual. I didn’t think it was possible to be even more excited about writing new stories, but there it is.
We’re also both signed up (separately) for Kris’ Patreon page so we can each view her posts on the Licensing Expo as we have a spare half-hour. I scrolled back and read the first one late yesterday.
Again, incredible stuff, and she says things in a different way from Dean, which means I learned even more. I will probably copy her posts there and moving them to a Word doc (obviously, only for my own use) so I can review them in order in the future.
Late yesterday afternoon, my wife and I talked about Dean’s upcoming Master Business Class (October) where a lot more on licensing will be presented. We won’t attend that one, but we might invest and attend the one in 2020.
Of course, we already invested in the year-long Licensing Transition and we’ll both be learning from Kris as well. So we’re already thinking of attending the Licensing Expo in 2020 ourselves to learn more and make our first formal appearance as licensors.
What a great new world it is!
Rolled out way late this morning at 5. This new world and all the learning I have to do has me thinking of revising my workday to a more “normal” time. My current day runs from around 2 or 3 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m. Now I’m thinking of getting up later in the day and going to bed later at night.
If I do, when my wife gets home from work (and after we eat supper) we can spend an hour or so together on the Licensing Transion and other learning, and then still spend a couple of “unwind” hours on a movie or something before going off to bed. We’ll see how that works out.
I have a routine doctor appointment this afternoon at 1. Not sure how I’ll fill the morning.
I won’t work on the physical bay/moving thing. Probably I’ll devote the day to learning some things on the writing side. Probably I won’t write fiction today. If I do, I’ll report those numbers tomorrow.
Talk with you again then.
See “D2D Ask Us Anything – Marketing Edition!” at https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_4BKuQoYeSEawsY_uEao9pg. I strongly recommend this.
Via Linda Mae Adams, see “David Gerrold Interview” at http://www.betterstorytelling.net/blog/david-gerrold-interview/.
See “How to Start Your Next Story” at http://prowriterswriting.com/how-to-start-your-next-story/.
See “How To Write [a] Nonfiction Book Proposal” at https://killzoneblog.com/2019/07/how-to-write-nonfiction-book-proposal.html. Even if you believe in yourself and indie publish, this can be a great checklist for what you should include in your nonfiction book or whether you should even write and publish it.
See “Licensing Transition and August Workshops” at https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/licensing-transition-and-august-workshops/.
For another take on critique groups, see “The Value of Critique Partners – Part 1” at https://terryodell.com/the-value-of-critique-partners-part-1/. I share this only for those of you who are interested in critique groups/partners. I did not comment. I no longer offer opposing viewpoints on other writers’ websites.
“David Gerrold” at https://www.gerrold.com/.
“Better Storytelling” at http://www.betterstorytelling.net/. Explore the tabs. Take what works for you, ignore the rest. But there’s a TON of information there.
There are also several more interviews on the site at http://www.betterstorytelling.net/blog/category/6-interviews/.
Fiction Words: XXXX
Nonfiction Words: 1890 (Journal)
Total words for the day: 1890
Writing of ()
Day 1…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX
Total fiction words for the month……… 3173
Total fiction words for the year………… 354511
Total nonfiction words for the month… 18080
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 202280
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 556791
Calendar Year 2019 Novels to Date…………………… 7
Calendar Year 2019 Novellas to Date……………… 1
Calendar Year 2019 Short Stories to Date… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 44
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 194
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31