Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Different Critique Group

So, you all know I do an in-person critique group with Jordan McCollum and Emily Clawson.  We started meeting a year ago now and while it's been wonderful and I've learned a lot, we do things a little different in our group.  Jordan McCollum posted her thoughts about it here, but I remember things a tiny bit differently. (Different POV and all that. See how I worked that in? Gold star for me!)

When we first started meeting we were each critiquing a chapter per person and meeting twice a month.  It was fun, but as Jordan points out, it would take us about a year to get through a novel for someone and how by the end of the book, would we really even remember what the characters were doing in the beginning?

Jordan claims she was reading some lady's blog about critique groups and suggested we read one person's work and a lot more pages, but I remember it more as, one of us had a deadline and asked if we could read fifty or so of her pages.  Then it grew into a discussion about, why don't we just take two months, read and critique her book in quarters and help her meet her deadline. (So, Jordan probably was thinking about some lady's blog while we were discussing.  She's a veritable fountain of knowledge.  Seriously, she is!  Ask her anything and she probably knows or has read something about it.  She also enjoys drowning my manuscripts in red ink a little too much I think. But I digress.)

Anyway, it sounded like such a great idea because I had a deadline coming up as well, so, that's how we started to work all the time.  Each of us has a turn to be the one with a manuscript on the sacrificial critique table, to be ripped apart and then put back together in about a two month span.  So far, it's worked great for us. (And I'm grateful no matter how it came about because it's an invaluable tool.  I recommend Jordan read more blog posts from this lady so we can all benefit).

The thing was, we were reading the manuscript out loud each time and with spending a few (or four) hours socializing first, we were getting home at 1 or 2 in the morning every time.  Which makes for tired mamas the next day.  So, in December, when we were running out of time and one of us wasn't feeling well, we just went over our notes which brought out some really great discussion on characterization, plot holes, what wasn't working, and honestly, it was one of the best brainstorming sessions I've ever been a part of.  Not only were we helping her with her manuscript, but it was making connections in my brain for my own manuscript and was incredibly motivating.  So when we got together this week, I suggested we do that every time.  And it worked again.  It was energizing and fun, and we still got to socialize a lot in between our discussions.  I was even home by midnight! Win/win for all of us.  (Although it's almost my turn for my manuscript to be critiqued.  I guess I better get going on those revisions!  Eep.)

I'm glad our group has been able to evolve and change to meet our needs.  It's been fun to see my own writing get better, not only as I'm critiqued, but also as I sit and critique for others.  I've noticed things about my writing that I've never seen before and it's been helpful to be around other writers who are as anxious as I am to improve.  Plus, we're all about on the same writing level which is a rare find and something I am glad about.

Finding a critique group can be hard, but when you find a good one, it can be worth its weight in gold.  How do your critique groups work?  Do you do in-person or online?  What do you find helpful about them?


Emily Gray Clawson said...

Our critique group has been a life saver for me - and for many of my pages. They thank you both. The best part (and the hardest thing to find in any crit group) is that we each genuinely like each other and are committed to helping each other. I think that's why we've been able to evolve. We are more motivated to find what works so we can stay together than just throwing up our hands when everything isn't perfect. I know I'm a much better writer and critiquer (also word-maker-upper) for working with you two! It took me three failed groups before finding you guys and I have no plans on going anywhere!

Jordan McCollum said...

Hey! I almost never use red ink. I bleed blue ;) .

(I thought you were the first one we did a big chunk from? It looks like we started that method a lot sooner than I remembered—back in mid Feb. Wow.)

We will have done six books (if you count Hostage & All Fall Down separately, which we should) in a year. Wow. That's gotta be a record ;)

Lindzee said...

I'm in two in-person critique groups and one online critique group. I definitely find the in-person groups to be a more enjoyable format for me. It's just easier to get more specific feedback in person, and therefore it's more helpful overall. They definitely are indispensable, and going to our critique group meetings is the best part of my week! They offer invaluable help that makes my writing better.

Emily Gray Clawson said...

I obeyed and blogged about our group. :-) You can see the post here -

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Emily you are always so positive and such a peacemaker. :) I loved your blog post, but did you mean to leave the last sentence like that? I'm on the edge of my seat!

I bleed blue, too, Jordan! Go BYU! Maybe it was my manuscript and I didn't want to own up to it, so thanks for telling on me. :) I think you're right, though, maybe we should count Hostage and All Fall Down separately. What a nightmare that was! You guys were so good to put up with that whole thing.

Lindzee, you are so right, in person has a different feel to it. I love it!

Jordan McCollum said...

Or maybe it was Em's short story? IDK.

I was just thinking--the blog post that (kind of?) inspired me is actually about critiquing first at 15 page synopsis of the novel in one meeting (instead of a chapter), then a 60 page synopsis (yes SIXTY) over four more meetings, then revising based on that feedback. I kinda didn't want to do that ;) .

Debra Allen Erfert said...

Two chapters a month? That's not critiquing. That's just playing around. Really! I can have a whole book written in four months--when my attention isn't divided. I'm glad you finally came up with a workable situation where you become each others Alpha and Beta readers (she says with obvious envy).

Technically I'm a member of American Night Writers Association, or ANWA, where I have a smaller online critique group. We also "meet" once a month, but there is very little, if any actual productive critiquing going on. I did put up my query letter on their main Critique line last week, but out of nearly 200 members, the same five dependable ladies finally posted their suggestions. I'm getting to the point of advertising for a critique group over on the Authors' Think Tank. It would still just be an online thing, but reading and critiquing is usually done on the computer anyway, right? *sighs*

Critiques are only as helpful as the honesty of the giver. If all you get is "this is so exciting!" or alike, then how are you expected to grow? I recently asked for a critique from a friend for a (nearly) ready manuscript. I felt she gave me an honest view of my story, telling me the good she read but also telling me how I can improve it. That kind of critique is truly priceless.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Jordan, that's very wise. ;)

Debra, I should clarify that we were critiquing two chapters a month from each person, (so six chapters) not just one person, at first. Then we switched. I'm glad we did. I've also been part of an online critique group that sounds about like your experience. My best options before now were critique partners. I hope you can find something. You are one talented lady!

Jon Spell said...

In my head, I was thinking "American Knight Riders Association" so I was surprised by your ANWA. Shouldn't it be AKRA?

So, do ANWAs write at night exclusively? Or is it mysteries? I feel too lazy to go look it up, err, what I meant was, I'd like to hear about it from someone who is a member and get her take on it. Yeah, that's the ticket.

I tried to form a critique group but we ended up just playing D&D via email instead. Fun, but not what I was looking for. =S

Debra Allen Erfert said...

Haha, Jon! I'd join the other one. We have a nice motorcycle. ANWA members are LDS women only, and mostly we write at night because we have families to take care of. My kids are grown, so I get to write during the day, night, weekends, whenever I want. If you played D&D instead of critiquing, I bet your partners were all guys. I am right?

C. Michelle Jefferies said...

I had an awesome group when I lived in my old house, we didnt critique but we talked about writing and se did alot ob brainstorming and problem solving.

I moved where i live now and there was nothing. I have a live group now but we only do 10 pages once a month and it goes through a book really slow.

I was in some online groups but the work load got to be too much and i had to drop them because all i was doing was critting and not writing my own stuff.

I also had an awesome crit partner where we emailed our stuff and she was amazing and I learned so much from her, but it just kinda fizzled. I'd love to be able to crit with her again. :) Especially when i have a manuscript due by July, and a short story due in march!

Jon Spell said...

Debra, you might think it was all guys, but no, there were 4 guys and 2 girls. ... ... ... Ok, fine, 3 adult men, 3 children, of whom 2 are girls. (One is 18, though, does that count? Anyone?)

My wife (freelance editor) tried a critique group, but she found that she got more into doing the critiquing than the writing, so she ended up being the group's de facto editor. She became good friends with them, though. We still get Christmas cards from one of them (and she came to the baby shower, too.)

I'm not as much of a talker, but I do write a lot, just not on the projects I need to...