Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How to Start a Local Writing Critique Group

It was until after college that I realized how important revision and feedback really is when it comes to good writing. I had the impression over the years that with a few tweaks and suggestions, stories were good to go. Boy, did I learn about the revision the hard way.

When writing my first novel, I only had family and friends read my WIP. I was shy of posting my work onlineand was really looking at their reactions. I am thankful for their input, but I needed more to grow as a writer.

After finishing my third WIP, I decided that I needed to find other writers in the community. I write in the science fiction/fantasy/paranormal/horror genre and I knew that the current writer's group in town wouldn't cut it since most writers I come across "don't get it". They read fantasy with different expectations since they are more "literary" writers, and their comments were far from helpful or understanding. I wanted to avoid that atmosphere and searched out for writers who would "get it".

It has been a year since I have put together Stone Circle Writer's Group and I am very happy that I took the initiative to start my own writer's group. At first it was a bumpy road with trying to figure out what to do. How do I find other people? What rules do we want to enforce? How often do we meet? Does it matter that we have different goals? There was a learning curve for the first six months as we dealt with these issues, and after that it has been smooth sailing.

How to Start a Local Writing Critique Group

1) Finding Critique Partners-- It wasn't too hard for me to find people. I volunteer as a con chair for a local science fiction and fantasy convention, Core Con. I was able to throw something up on the Facebook group to ask for local people to contact me. I created a Google Doc submission form so I could easily keep track of willing participants. I wanted the form to reflect their goals and to help determine if we were all on the right page. Another way to find people is to check out Meetup, reaching out to other local related groups (book clubs), or posting it at your local bookstores, cafes, or even the library.

2) Creating Guidelines-- This was one of the hardest things to come up with after a few meetings. We realized after examining our own writing that we didn't want to spend time helping people structure their paragraphs or dialogue. It was important that people came in with those strong writing skills so we could focus on critique than teaching. It was decided if people wanted to join, we needed to read a piece of their writing to determine that they were a good fit. Creating these guidelines was difficult since we didn't want to alienate anyone down the road by destroying their self confidence, but at the same time, we didn't want to hamper our own progress.

3) Expectations-- Developing expectations of the group is no different than when a professor hands out their syllabus at the beginning of the term. It is a way for people to know what they need to do to not just pass the class, but hopefully grow during their time spent there. We determined that attendance and participation is a very important part of being part of a critique group. Since we started, every month we each have handed in a piece of work whether it was new, revised from a previous submission, or from a writing exercise.

Communication is another factor that keeps our group closely knit. We use the Yahoo! Groups to send out reminders, share relevant articles or advice, and post our pieces of work. If we are having a problem, we go to the group and they give their support. Creating writing goals together has really helped us all in finding out what direction we want to take with our own personal goals.

Another form of communication is how we explain to each other what we like and dislike about each other's writing. I had a few forms from college that I custom tailored to point out points such as voice, plot, setting, and so on. As we became more familiar with each other's writing style, we are able to point out "don't use so many this" or "you need a bit more description here". Don't say anything harsh that you wouldn't want to hear. Remain supportive to your team players and don't hesitate to offer suggestions.

4) Critique Submission Guidelines-- One way to keep your work professional is by treating it that way. When we hand in our submissions, we follow manuscript guidelines as we would if we submitted it to an agent or publisher. Also, we need to determine in Yahoo! Groups whose is what so we have to submit with our initials, date, and name of the piece. During various revisisions, this proves helpful to have a backlog posted so a critique member can go back and do a comparison if they choose.

5) Minutes-- I created a Google Site for the group that has all the documents for the previous information above. Our minutes include what we critiqued and the various discussions we undertook that month (sometimes with related links). It is a nice reflection of how far we have come and proof that we are a dedicated group. It gives me a sense of pride looking back over the past year to see how far we have traveled in our writing. The Yahoo! Groups is kept private, so having a website is a good place to direct people to learn more about our writing critique group and to read samples of our work.

The biggest thing to keep in mind when building your group:  It isn't about having the same goals, but having similar passion and commitment towards writing. Not everyone wants to become a published author, but want to explore this as a hobby. Some people want to write every day, while others are Sunday writers. Those are personal goals, but having this as a group goal helps everyone win.

It took me quite a bit of research and input from my amazing critique partners (who this whole endeavor wouldn't have succeeded as it had, so a big thank you!) to come up with these conclusions. I did some research online, but the search didn't provide results I desired. I hope that it you decide to start a group, that these points are helpful on your journey.

I am quite fortunate that I found such committed critique partners and that we have become such good friends. We have come a long way, haven't we?

Be sure to keep an eye out for my blog post on the reflection of the past year and what benefits that I have gained after creating Stone Circle.


Comic used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com

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