Solving Critique Group Snafus

Wednesday, September 04, 2013
I have a great writers’ critique group!

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


Anonymous said...

The WWWPs miiiight agree to loan you Linda O'Connell. She knows how to keep our group on track, which is sometimes hard to do. (We have a couple of members--I won't mention names--who seem intent on driving us way into a ditch of snarky, snipe-y fun.)

Margo Dill said...

Cathy: I love that your group refocused--that means you all still do care about each other AND your writing. :) I have AN AWESOME critique group, as I'm always going on about here. We have a blog and a FB secret group to get ourselves organized. :) HA! We try to meet twice a month, but we don't have designated days. We hash out dates at the beginning of the month, and then whoever can't come to those, critiques online. We have one member that SKYPES in because she moved to Joplin (which for those of you not from Missouri is about 4 hours from St. Louis.) Anyway, we have 6 people, and 3 ar critiqued each meeting for 45 minutes. We try to send things well in advance of the meeting. We meet for 3 hours, and the first 45 minutes is dinner and talking--we reserve it for that. Then we start critiquing. It works out pretty well. :) Last month due to summer, no one had any new material, SO we met anyway, had dinner, and then we had a write-in. Each one of us brought our computers and we all worked on our WIPs for 2 hours. I love my critique group!

Cathy C. Hall said...

Sioux, I canNOT imagine who would do such a thing. ;-)

And Margo, I LOVE that you work dinner into your meeting. We meet on Saturday mornings and a few of us can make lunch, but often, it's hard to just manage the two hours! I think we'll make headway, alternating the critiques this time around (we have 5 members)because at this point, we're all sending in longer chunks of novels. And P.S. I've read y'all's blog and thoroughly enjoy it!

Linda O'Connell said...

Anything gets stale, and I think it's good to shake things up a bit. I do believe our felxibility works. Sometimes one or the other can't make it due to family issues, but I think we all make crtique group our twice a month priority. Write on!

Debra Mayhew said...

After reading this, I'm even more excited about the changes we made. It's hard to step outside that comfort zone, but I think we're all going to be better for it. This year will go down in history as my Year of Transitions. Phew!

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

As usual, Master Y, you are quite correct about how our group has gone down the slippery slope of . . . I guess the word is "familiarity." But the changes are good ones (even if I'm hovering at the outer edges right now) and necessary to keep the focus where it belongs. I'm excited, too, because no matter where I land in the grand scheme of things, I know I'll come away from each meeting having learned something that will improve my writing, regardless of genre.

Lynn said...

I don't know why we writers think we can let that be the one thing to let go of first, but I think we all do it... well, everyone I know anyway. However, our critique group is committed and we miss occasionally. We do limit our "talk" time for the first 10 minutes and then we get down to business!

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