Solving Critique Group Snafus
Unfortunately, we have fallen into some not-so-great habits.
Our meetings have gone from not-to-be-missed—to missed more often than attended. It’s totally understandable; we lead busy lives. We have kids and jobs and mountains of responsibilities. Life throws its share of curveballs, and sometimes, you just have to drop everything and catch ‘em as best you can.
But when we first started our critique group, we made our meetings a priority. Even if we were juggling those balls and unable to physically meet, we sent our work online. And that accountability—knowing our critique partners were expecting our work—made us work a little bit harder.
Our critiques have gone from detailed notes—to a few lines of simple fixes. And I understand how this sort of critique can creep its way into the group. After all, we know each other well; our partners get what we mean. Why bother to write everything out?
But during the first year of critiquing, our writing seemed to grow exponentially with our detailed and thoughtful notes. So now, we’ve quit overusing adverbs. Our tenses rarely change. We understand “head-hopping” and third person limited. Basically, we’ve moved beyond writing craft mistakes. But for our writing to get to the next level, we need to tackle deeper problems. And that means our critiques need to move to the next level, too.
Our discussions have gone from two hours of writing—to an hour or more of personal rambles. And of course, I understand how that happens. We’ve grown close over the years; we care about each other outside our writing lives. Often, the only time we catch up is during our critique group meetings.
But when we were new to each other, the focus of the group was writing. We met for two hours, spending the majority of our time on critiques. Now, we rush to get the writing business completed. And so the critiques feel rushed and disjointed, with no time for members to clear up questions. Our focus has morphed into frustration.
Fortunately, August was designated as a special meeting. We discussed making changes; we hashed out new guidelines. We decided that we would meet on the assigned critique day, no matter how many of us could attend (and those who couldn’t attend would send an online critique). We created a critique template (I’ll try to get to critique templates in the next post!). And finally, we’re alternating writers/critiques per session so that we’re each allotted a generous amount of discussion.
I’m like a kid starting a new school year! I’m ready to bust those bad habits, and I’m looking forward to what we’ll accomplish. And I’d like to hear from you about your critique group. What works for you? Or do you have other suggestions to solve our problems?
Because, honestly, I have a great critique group. And if at first, we don’t succeed, I’m willing to try, try again!
~Cathy C. Hall