Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Politicians, Writers, and Critique Groups

My dear friend Robin Weeks had a great post yesterday, that got me waxing a little whimsical. You should check out her post before reading on.

Since I work with politicians, am the election official in charge of a primary for over 50,000 registered voters three weeks from yesterday, I must add the following to Robin's theme:
If you want to be a politician, you need to try and please everyone (to get their votes) with the end result that you tick off a lot of people.

If you want to be a writer, you must try to please everyone (because you can't submit anything without feedback so you've got beta readers, critique partners, friends, neighbors, people in line with you at the grocery store, etc. giving you input) with the end result that your ms could wind up without the power and emotion to move anyone (and you are now bald from having ripped all your hair out from trying to conform to what everyone else wants your tale to be).

Hmmm ... seems like everyone needs to accept that if you can't please everyone, you should at least please yourself.

And keep your hair.

But seriously, I've received some good feedback from my betas and tremendous input from my online critique partners. Really. These people are incredible.

Remember that stupid $770 college class I worked so hard to get into last fall because it was a prerequisite for the creative writing class I wanted? But then I got into the class and realized that no way was it going to teach me what I wanted to learn, so I dropped it?

But then I found out about my online critique group (through Robin, btw) at David Farland's Writers' Groups. So I submitted my name to a couple of groups and was accepted by both of them? And now the members (one group is very small and not overly active, which is saving my neck--while the other one is very active and keeping me busy) are teaching me just the stuff I wanted to learn?

For free!

Well, last Saturday, I attended the first meeting of a new in-person critique group.

You know. The kind with real, live people actually sitting in the same room together.

It was a heady experience. They were all at the professional critique session I attended a week ago Saturday, and two of them were in my group. This should be interesting. I've gotten so used to the online format, there will be an adjustment to this live thing.

Do you belong to a live critique group? How does yours work? How often do you meet?

If you don't belong to a live group, do you have on online one? Are you happy with it? How'd you find out about it?


  1. My critique partners are all online friends, and I met them all through blogging and various writing forums. The ones I return to again and again are the ones who gave me serious and critical feedback. "Reactions" are good, because they let me know if I'm affecting the audience the way I want to -- but my writing doesn't get better unless my crit partners point out the flaws.

  2. Just me, but I don't go in much for the big critique groups. I do better one-on-one with people. With the exception of one person, I've met all my critique partners online. The other I met at a conference.

    You have to learn to be very good at filtering the criticism in a group I think. I have a feeling you'll do just fine though. :D

  3. Dianne - that is exactly what I'm learning. Robin loves when she gets a critique back that's bleeding red.

    L.G. - I've heard of some writers, who shy away from critique groups because some of the participants can be so poisonous in their remarks. They aren't really into helping the book be better, just into tearing it down. I'm fortunate in my groups because they make me feel more like an advanced mentor who's taking my hand and showing me where my ms is lacking. Explanations for why something doesn't work are so much more helpful.

  4. Okay, this was a good reason to link to my post. :D And great addition to the theme, too. (Now are you gonna campaign with us or not??) :D

  5. great stuff!
    i am not at the point where i can do live crit mtgs, cant fit into buy sched. when children more self sufficient i will. online yes! unicorn bell! just getting started. i'd like to know more about yours =)

  6. I attended a writer's retreat in July in Taos, NM for a writing class through Southern Methodist University. I met several people there and we started an in-person writing group when we got back to Dallas. We are 4 weeks in and like it a lot. We submit our chapter via Dropbox and then give comments over sandwiches and salads at a local Panera bread every week. It keeps me churning out chapters each week, which I need. Also, I'm a lawyer and the other guy is a doctor we have one woman who is a stay at home mom who reads constantly and another woman who is an engineering professor. The group is so diverse that you get multiple points of view.

  7. I'm still looking for a critique group, either online or inperson (new word I just made up). I live in Provo UT and write LDS contemporary drama and historical fiction (Book of Mormon). Is there a place for me somewhere? (cue the music...) Being retired means I just have to plan meetings around trips to see my kids and grandkids.

  8. Currently, I'm not part of a critique group, but I may consider joining one at some point. For now, I gobble up the feedback I receive from editors when my work is rejected or a rewrite is requested.

  9. I love my live crit group! We meet twice a month - taking turns meeting at each other's houses. We send around 10 pages each via e-mail, which works great for us, then get together and go over the stuff we liked, didn't get, suggest changing. Oh, and we always have treats! :)

  10. There is a live group here in town but they meet Wednesday mornings, when I'm at work. :( I do have a one-on-one critique going with a fellow member of RWA. I'm also in a group on the Farland site. No, we're not active but dang it, we give good feedback! LOL

    I may have to check out the college now that it's back in session and see what they have going.

  11. I was a member of two long-term live critique groups (both run by professional authors) and two online critique groups. Now I have about three people I really trust read for me, but only one of them is a writer. The other two have some editorial experience.

    I gave up on critique groups because, of the four I belonged to at one time or another, only one actually produced usable feedback. I sat in one group for two years and hardly ever got more than a comment about how people liked it or maybe change that one word. I learned more from an agent in 30 minutes than I did in those two years of weekly sessions.

    Part of the problem I've encountered with critique groups is that they don't work the way people actually read. Who reads a novel at the rate of 10 pages or a chapter a week? People forget events from 6 weeks before, plot holes slip past without comment, pacing is impossible to gauge unless it swings wildly within those few pages, etc.

    In my experience, the smaller the group the better. It's preferable to have the participants working in the same or related genres (they should know the genre conventions, be readers of the genre), otherwise you can get hit with lots of advice that goes against your genre.

    I realize I sound very negative about crit groups, even though I had one great group for awhile (which disbanded when several members signed multi-book deals and didn't have time to do it anymore). I just tend to find that a bad crit group is worse than no crit group.

  12. Glads things started to work out for you after all. I guess sometimes the best things in life are free;)

  13. YES! I am VERY happy with my on-line critique group ~ ;) You guys are giving me structure, and deadlines, and goals - it's fantastic!

    I've done live critique groups in the past - nothing regular right now. Of course, my cousin and I keep talking about starting one...

  14. The in-person critique group that I was once a member of was wonderful, but they met too infrequently. A few of us from those gatherings started an online critique group that has worked out really well. I am most grateful for my critique pals.

  15. I have one critique partner and will have a second one soon. Both are on line and neither one writes in my genre, which is really good because I get a fresh perspective. I'm hoping for at least three more...maybe, but they have to be good...and trustworthy. :)

  16. I've not been successful finding a writer's group locally. The ones I've found are either to far away or on Sundays during my church time. I am super excited about the David Farland's Writers' Groups site. I signed up and am awaiting acceptance into a group. Thanks in advance if it works for me!

  17. I think with all that is available for free online we can learn a lot! :)

  18. I have a couple test readers I meet in person, but not a critique group. My three critique partners I found online and they are awesome!

  19. Online critiques for me. If it were in person, I'd probably spend the whole time over analyzing my partner's body language as he or she read. ;)

  20. I do not belong to a group on or offline… I use my blog to work out some issues. One day I might progress to partners or a critic group, but for now I am happy with my station.

    I want to thank you for your wonderful advice and support on my blog. I really appreciate it, thx.

  21. My ftf crit group meets 2x a month, and we rotate through 2 submissions a meeting for reading/critting. Sometimes we do prompts and workshops instead of critiquing. We all write varied genre's, so it is always interesting. And we encourage experimentation, though you need to be seriously writing for the goal of publication, not just for your own pleasure.

    I hope you enjoy the live person group. Mine has been an awesome experience. Best wishes to you.


  22. Hi Donna,

    I entered into this post so intrigued to find out about political groups! I'm curious re your work in that arena, and I like it that you began to discuss the Need to Please vis-a-vis elected officials. While that might be necessary in campaign politics, I don't think we writers should get caught up in the BS that ultimately shrinks the player's balls. (Pardon my visceral reference, but I get very passionate about political discussions!)

    Re writing, my mantra is this: WRITE WHAT YOU WANT TO READ. Needing-to-please is for those running for elected office. Writing from the heart, and feeling it, is a whole other matter.

    I hope you find a critique group that honors your individuality and whatever passion you bring to your work. Settle for nothing less!

  23. I have been wanting to join an in person group but haven't found one yet. I think both online and in person groups have great and different things to offer. Let us know how it goes!

  24. Since I don't live in Utah, it's taken me nearly four years to put together the in person thing, but I gotta say, it actually makes my writing faster. Weird, huh?


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