How many of you belong to non-web critique groups?

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taylormillgirl
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How many of you belong to non-web critique groups?

Post by taylormillgirl » December 31st, 2009, 9:37 am

There are several great recommendations for online critiquing forums, but I'd like to meet with other writers in the flesh. If you belong to a writers' group, how did you find them? And more importantly, how did you know they were qualified to give helpful advice? It seems that joining to the wrong group could cause more harm than good.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.
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Re: How many of you belong to non-web critique groups?

Post by shadow » December 31st, 2009, 9:45 am

I thought about it but I don't have the time. Doing so much other things besides writing I just couldn't. so I stick to online.
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Re: How many of you belong to non-web critique groups?

Post by Holly » December 31st, 2009, 9:55 am

I belong to two groups.

The new group: this year I signed up for National Novel Writing Month -- not to write a 50,000 word draft, but to use the local write-ins to revise my current WIP. We met several times a week at a college and a coffee shop. It worked really, really well, and five of us wanted to stay in touch. We plan to meet once a month at a coffee shop, bring four double-spaced pages, read them aloud while the others read copies, and then discuss.

The old/current group: when I was walking my dog I met a couple of neighbors who happen to be writers and teach at the local college. We became friends and eventually formed a small writing group. We meet once a week and work in silence for several hours, like the old study hall in school. That also works well. We usually don't exchange work, but once in a while we do.

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Re: How many of you belong to non-web critique groups?

Post by Holly » December 31st, 2009, 10:08 am

One more suggestion about meeting other writers. You can take a writing class, even just to give you a spark, at a local community college or arts council. If you live in an urban area there will be more options. You might contact PennWriters, a national writing group, and look into membership. I understand they have groups around the country (I don't belong, but I know someone who does). http://www.pennwriters.com/

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Re: How many of you belong to non-web critique groups?

Post by Nick » December 31st, 2009, 10:27 am

Not any official group, insofar as "official = organization/name/what have you", but there is a group. Well, the group has semi-disbanded. Four of us are in our senior year of high school, three in their freshman year of university, and one is a working teacher. Last year it was four juniors, three seniors, and a teacher. It afforded us the chance to meet when we had free time around school, but we still did a good deal of meetings outside of school. Now we don't meet up outside of school as much, because two of my fellow seniors have gone on to get jobs which eat up the bulk of their free time and the college kids are all going to separate schools that are a good distance away, so it's not like they can easily carpool the distance. I do still send them snippets of stuff, though, and we did set up a website for it. So that's been helpful. But I do wish we'd meet in person sometime soon. One of the now-college kids was like a cousin to me.

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Re: How many of you belong to non-web critique groups?

Post by BransfordGroupie » December 31st, 2009, 10:28 am

taylormillgirl wrote:There are several great recommendations for online critiquing forums, but I'd like to meet with other writers in the flesh. If you belong to a writers' group, how did you find them? And more importantly, how did you know they were qualified to give helpful advice? It seems that joining to the wrong group could cause more harm than good.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.
In my little town there is only one writers' group. I never went back after my second visit. They were a nice bunch of people, and some produced great work, but I am not sure if any of them were 'qualified'. In the allotted 3 hours each month, at least half an hour was spent discussing housekeeping stuff, 30-60 minutes spent on things that didn't relate to writing, and the remaining time was spent sitting around in a circle reading our work (which was usually homework pieces or in my case excerpts from your current WIP) to the group and receiving nothing but praise (even if it was pure crap - can I say that?). And finally a rushed gathering of ideas for next month's homework. A little boring and shallow for my liking.

I read the following in "How to Write a Damn Good Novel" by James N. Frey (given to me by my mother):
There are three kinds of writers' groups: puff, literary and destructive.

A puff group is fun to belong to. Whenever anyone reads a work, the criticism goes like this: 'I loved the image of the flower growing up through the swimming pool....' This type of group often serves brownies... Unfortunately, this type of group has ruined more writers than the McCarthy Committee... do not let them read your work, even if they pay you. You can gain nothing from flattery.

A literary group... will read your work and compare you to the masters and say things like 'Oh, you should read Smirnoff's Confessions of a Mad Madam. You'll learn more about existentialism and imagists and Freudian allusions than you ever dreamed there was to know... The cheese and wine are good. The criticism is invariably very bad... The kind of writers you encounter here will be writing 'experimental' prose...

The destructive groups are the only kind that are truly worthwhile... You'll hear things like, '...punch it up... These guys are supposed to be Marines, not hairdressers!" They have plenty of fun turning your precious prose into coleslaw. This is good... hard to take, but you don't make steel in a hot tub; you make it in a blast furnace.'
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taylormillgirl
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Re: How many of you belong to non-web critique groups?

Post by taylormillgirl » December 31st, 2009, 10:55 am

Exactly, BransfordGroupie! So far, 99.9% of my feedback has been praise, which isn't really feedback at all. I need to join a "destructive" group!
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Re: How many of you belong to non-web critique groups?

Post by Nick » December 31st, 2009, 11:00 am

I think the real key is to find a balance of "puff" and "destructive". Not too much praise, but not too much criticism either. If it's all destruction, you may decide what's good with the book is shite too and throw it out with everything else. And the downfall of the praise is pretty blatant. Leastways that's how I've always treated my criticisms of fellows' work -- tell them what you dig, and then turn right around and blast what sucks into the stratosphere. Although I did get slapped for that once. Moral of the story: Never insult a moody girl's work unless you're prepared for numb frontal regions.

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Re: How many of you belong to non-web critique groups?

Post by BransfordGroupie » December 31st, 2009, 11:10 am

Nick wrote:I think the real key is to find a balance of "puff" and "destructive". Not too much praise, but not too much criticism either. If it's all destruction, you may decide what's good with the book is shite too and throw it out with everything else. And the downfall of the praise is pretty blatant. Leastways that's how I've always treated my criticisms of fellows' work -- tell them what you dig, and then turn right around and blast what sucks into the stratosphere. Although I did get slapped for that once. Moral of the story: Never insult a moody girl's work unless you're prepared for numb frontal regions.

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Re: How many of you belong to non-web critique groups?

Post by A La Vanille » December 31st, 2009, 2:33 pm

Hmm...
I'm in a creative writing club. I don't know if I'd call it a critique group, because after someone reads their stuff, we usually clap and the leader of our group usually says something like, "That was awesome."
We don't really critique, I think it's because we're too nice. I'm really disappointed about that. I feel there's no reason to share my work there anymore if I'm just going to get meaningless praise for it.
*sigh*

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Re: How many of you belong to non-web critique groups?

Post by robena grant » January 2nd, 2010, 12:26 pm

I'm a member of RWA (Romance Writers of America) and they have local chapters in most states. It's easy to find a crit partner or two.

I hooked up with five authors some years ago. I like the face-to-face meetings but they are hard when your ms. is being torn to shreds and you aren't allowed to comment until the critique is over. : ) They are no place for the hypersensitive. And in retrospect I think five is a lot to handle. Three is probably the magical number.

We didn't read out loud but exchanged chapter copies the week before the meeting then said what we liked, didn't understand, etc. There can be petty jealousies, there can be idea stealers in a group, but there can also be honesty and camaraderie, excellent brainstorming, and you get to know the other participants and their distinctive voice. We disbanded when three of the team moved to different states and two of them became published and had to commit to contracts and other things. But we still stay in contact and get together at every national conference.

I tried going solo for a year or two but missed the feedback. I recently linked up with one of the original members and even though we live on opposite coasts we know, like, and understand each other. It seems to be working out fine. We submit a chapter per week. My partner writes very romantic, sexy stuff, and I write mystery, but it doesn't matter. We both understand that to mark a place as cute or funny or sexy is just as important as saying this is redundant, or that sentence is awkward. We never try to rewrite each others work, we just make suggestions as a reader and I think that's key. Also she's much better at catching my overuse of commas and making me dig deeper into my characters emotions. : )

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Re: How many of you belong to non-web critique groups?

Post by DSL » January 2nd, 2010, 2:10 pm

I belong to two.
The first I formed by going to SCBWI and searching for writers in my area. Then I sent each one an invite to a meeting, "If you are serious about improving your craft...".
Surprised that a 7 mile radius generated over 15 positive replies (yikes!), about 10 came to the first meeting, a few shuffled in and out over the first six months, and now that
a year has gone by, we've pared down to 6 determined regulars.
The second group I stumbled upon when sending out my invite. Two local writers were already part of another group that had been going for 6 years! Lady luck was on
my side when, after a few e-mail conversations, this talented team invited me to attend one of their meetings.
I highly recommend an in-person group if possible. If not, consider setting up a group-specific site where you can post a manuscript to the whole group, and everyone can
observe the exchange of comments. I don't know the technicalities of doing this, but know that it can be done fairly easily.
Good luck and happy writing!

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Re: How many of you belong to non-web critique groups?

Post by Katrina Stonoff » January 2nd, 2010, 4:52 pm

I couldn't find a local group, so I started one. I invited the one other person I knew who was writing fiction and put up a notice at the library. We've now been meeting for about four years, and it's very strong. A number of people have come and gone, but we have a solid core.

I live in a rural area, and if I'd limited membership to people who are "qualified," I would have been meeting alone. Especially for the first two years. We had to take anyone who was willing to come and participate. However, being a part of our group is a LOT of work (more info below), and the writers who aren't serious get washed out. We now have six regular members, which is the max we'll take, and virtually all of us write good, solid critiques. And everyone sees different things, which is nice, though we often have a consensus.

We work very much like Robena Grant described: we bring printed copies, and we take them home to read. Then we bring back written critiques, which we summarize verbally. The author is not supposed to respond except to ask questions for clarification; otherwise it degrades into a session where the author defends everything she's done, and doesn't ever hear what didn't work. We try to sandwich our criticism between praise: start with something positive, give criticism, end with something encouraging. I've been in critique groups for almost 15 years now, and I've found there is ALWAYS something positive to say, even if it's minor and nearly overwhelmed with criticism.

Our maximum word count per writer is 5,000 words, and we can each submit every time. So we could have as much as 25,000 words to read every two weeks, and most of us read each piece at least three times. Like I said, it's an enormous amount of work, and that really weeds out people who are just writing for fun.

The main thing you need to realizing though, IMO, is that your biggest education doesn't come from the critiques people write for you, it comes from the critiques YOU write for them. It's much easier to see problems in other people's work, and if you do it consistently, eventually you'll start recognizing the same problems in your own work. It's important to remember this because it helps you understand that a group can be beneficial for you even if nobody else is "qualified." You can always work on recognizing your mistakes by spotting other writer's mistakes, and eventually if you keep the group going, the level of ability in the group will increase as the non-serious writers fall away.

Good luck!

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Re: How many of you belong to non-web critique groups?

Post by Seamus » January 6th, 2010, 4:03 pm

I had a great group for about four years. It came at a formative time for my writing and it was really worth doing. There were five of us varying in skill and accomplishment, who met monthly for an evening. We had a set of groundrules: We rotated the hot-seat so that two to three people were presenting that month who had not presented the previous month. The piece to be critiqued was to be in people's hands a few days before so that you didn't jam your readers. If you were stumped, you brought an article or a work to discuss (either a piece about writing or a creative piece in its own right.) When you were in the hot seat, you could only ask clarifying questions until the critique part was over. It took some discipline, but this helped us all take critiques as gifts, not personal affronts. After 30 or 40 minutes of critique the writer could discuss his piece openly. The group also needed an organizer to track turns and dates and send out reminder emails (that was me). We grew to trust one another and really benefited from it. I consider the charter members of the group to be good friends of mine.

Then it fell apart. The reasons it fell apart were these: 1) Some writers just lost the drive to submit something when they were supposed to, leaving one or two to carry the writing load for months. That got better after it was raised, but it never fully recovered. 2) One guy moved away and we replaced him with someone who was not organized enough to either write his own work or read others'. It caused a lot of resentment, even though he kept promising to get better. 3) Another guy moved away and we replaced him with two people (woman and man). The man was an insufferably bad writer and had written an entire manuscript that he was feeding us, 30 pages at a time, which meant none of our improvements were likely to have made it into his next submission. Reading his stuff was painful. No amount of gentle critique would get through his head and it seemed like the remaining charter members privately felt like this was the final nail and we agreed to disband rather than suffer through kicking him off of a group for which many had lost interest.

Moral of the story is that these can really work, but the trust you need takes time and skill level matters. If I were doing it again, I'd ask for writing samples to establish a baseline skill level. I'd also make sure that the group was only for "works in progress" and not for finished pieces, so the group can impact the current writing. I don't know how to keep a strong level of commitment going, but maybe it's something kind-hearted like anyone not reading or writing when they are supposed to has to buy dinner for the others or bring a bottle of wine. Good luck.
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Re: How many of you belong to non-web critique groups?

Post by dmarie84 » January 6th, 2010, 6:31 pm

I found mine when I participated in NaNo in 2007. It's a small group--and we keep losing members due to people moving away and all, so we're actively trying to "recruit" new ones--but it's really been helpful to meet in person. We generally try to meet once a week or once every other week at local restaurants. We go over two people's submissions each week.

I have to say that finding a group that works for you can be difficult. I think I was blessed to find one where good critique is given as well as encouragement.
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