I'm posting a segment today from a class I made up on critique called, Dishing AsWell As You Take, or, how to give and receive diplomatic critique. This section came to mind because I was raving about my writer's group to an interviewer last week, and realized just how amazing they are and how lucky I am to have them. I wish every author could have the kind of support and feedback that comes from a good writer's circle, and I know that the biggest factor in making that a reality is finding the right group...
Writing groups, the best and worst tool you’ll ever have.
Most authors will tell you all about the necessity of having good “beta readers,” about the importance of getting “fresh eyes” to examine your writing, and about exactly how much they owe to their “group” or “critique circle.” They will also, invariably have a horror story or two to tell about the ones that weren’t quite so helpful.
The success of any writer’s group depends on the dove-tailing of its members needs with the needs of the group as a whole. Some groups may or may not serve the form and function that appeal to you, others may have the format you’re looking for, but for whatever reason, still not make a very good fit.
When shopping for a critique circle, there are many factors to consider, not the least of being: do I really want one? Whatever your needs and preferences are, getting the right group can be vital in ensuring that your experience is positive instead of devastating.
#1 Writer’s group or beta readers.
A writer’s group is a collection of authors all of whom have needs that the group should address. The format provides a diverse pool of skills and opinions, but also requires a give and take and will not allow (or should not allow) one person to dominate with their needs at the expense of other members. If you are willing to give as well as receive, the rewards here can be enormous.
Beta readers are not necessarily other writers. Certainly, they can be, but this situation often involves readers who exchange free or early access to an author’s works for feedback. While some writer’s groups exchange beta reads, often a beta reader situation is a one way street with the author focusing on writing and not an exchange of criticism.
#2 Writing Workshop vs. Critique Group
A writer’s group can be strictly an exercise, seminar and workshop scenario, where authors come to learn and practice their skills with little or no feedback. It can also be a heavily formatted critique circle and/or any combination of the two. If what you want is practice and exercises, a critique group where there are strict set schedules and only one author at a time, formal critique is not going to meet your needs. The same is true of the author who really only wants a critique source…the writing seminar style group is likely to prove disappointing.
Even if you find a group that follows the format that you seek, compatibility can be an issue on many levels. A group that focuses on poetry will have little to offer the fiction writer, and a group that stresses literary fiction can be next to useless to the commercial genre author.
With beta readers, an author must find readers who enjoy and understand their particular genre, as well as their writing style. Having a reader continually disparage your work because they simply don’t like the way or what your write is not beneficial as a tool for growth.
On the same note, working in a beta or group situation with someone who has a strong personality conflict can cause more problems than it provides benefits.
#4 Help not Ego
A group that leans too far in either direction, be it too gentle or too harsh, will be of little use to anyone. A critique circle that provides nothing but praise and positive feedback may make its members feel good, but it will do little to advance their art or careers. Conversely, a group that sets out to trash one another’s work only serves to feed some twisted sense of ego and superiority. Brutality will only make an author gun-shy and defensive and far less likely to hear anything legitimate inside the feedback barrage.
An author's group is just one more tool that the writer can choose to take or leave, but if you happen to discover one that really suits you, I don't think anything else can compare to it. They can also be a lot of fun, and a source of some amazing friendships.