Critique Groups - My Writing-Savors
by Kelly McKenzie
I laughed today after receiving an email from one of my critique group members. I sent my monthly submission, which at ten pages fell woefully short of what I intended. However, based on her email, I think I can feel satisfied at the level of impact it had. She appreciated the content but the brevity of the submission annoyed her, and I paraphrase when I say she wanted to know what happens next and ordered me to sit in my chair and get crackin’.
I joined the CWC because I often let writing take a back seat to laundry or grocery shopping. To remain motivated and force myself to sit down and write, I decided, upon joining, to submit to all of the CWC contests. It worked. Sort of. Instead, I found myself pushing writing aside until the last minute and submitting a piece that I didn't love and upon reading again, found boring to boot.
At one meeting they asked, "Are you interested in a critique group?"
Well yeah, of course I was interested in a critique group. What better way to keep my writing at the top of my priority list than by having a group of peers expecting me to submit it for review. If I failed to do that, then they would undoubtedly kick me out right? Deadlines are wonderful motivators. Sign me up!
I didn't have to wait too long before CWC set up a special critique group meeting at Joseph-Beth Booksellers. Providing cookies and sodas— I just couldn’t say no to the cookies—a smattering of tables with little signs encouraged each writer to pick a genre. I watched my friend wander over to poetry and realized I would be tackling this on my own. I looked back and forth between Short Story and Novel.
“Which should I choose,” I asked myself?
I had taken a short story class in college and only two stories had come of that—one of which would become the beginning for my novel. With little patience for short stories in general, I couldn’t imagine having to come up with a new idea for every submission. I might have worked the same short story for a while but in the end, my novel idea (one can only hope anyway) called to me in a way I could not resist.
I hesitantly took a step toward Novel, found a chair, and waited. A huge number of people began to accumulate, enough that we had to split into multiple groups. Before I knew it, several of us gathered for a new group—Fantasy Fiction. My confidence level rose. I had feared not only what others might say about my novel but what I might have to say about theirs. But I knew and loved this genre well, and my enthusiasm for Fantasy could only benefit the group. That they love it too thrills me because we have fantastic (literally) debates and I enjoy reading their novels.
My first two experiences with critique groups (the college short story class and one I started with two friends) did not work. They didn’t work for two reasons.
1. The college class was a mix of students trying to get a grade. Many were afraid to critique or didn’t have time to fully devote to it.
2. The group of friends…I think you can imagine how those meetings went. The gab sessions and again, the fear of critiquing (possibly hurting your friend’s feelings) kept the progress to a minimum.
Critique groups work best when each member is honest and willing to put in the time. If you really think a piece of writing falls flat, you have to tell the author. How else will they improve? Focus – your writing will suffer without it and so will your critique meetings. My group has grown comfortable enough that we joke around but our leader always brings us back. If you plan on starting a critique group, designate a leader and outline the rules from the beginning.
I must take this opportunity to thank my critique group. They are great writers and they never fail to point out extremely useful critique advice. Most of all, I have to thank them for their patience. I do not have a complete manuscript. They have been critiquing rough drafts of brand-spanking new material each month. When I started with this group, I only had thirty pages tops and I had no idea where my story was going. At 150 pages, my plot is cruising along, the characters have more depth, and my writing skills have improved. Still fighting that passive voice but we’ll get there.
If you are interested in joining a critique group through the CWC, then email firstname.lastname@example.org.