Writing can be an isolated and lonely business. It is the writers’ group that most often brings the writer out of isolation and also gives much needed help in polishing those manuscripts prior to submission. I was asked to join my first writer’s critique group after the second or third conference I attend. Some of the writers I met at that conference were starting a group and wanted me to join them.
I liked the others writers and wanted to get better acquainted, but was scared to death of having to read them my work and let them criticize it. I wasn’t a rank beginner, in fact I was as well or more published than most of them. It was that I had always worked in isolation and even though I was submitting regularly, it was to faceless editors I didn’t know personally. If they rejected me, I simply submitted elsewhere.
I hate to admit it, but I think it took two or three years before I finally agreed to join the group. It didn’t take long to realize that it was the best thing I had ever done for my writing career. When I had worked alone, I never had anyone to point out the areas where my writing tended to be weak, where I was short-sighted, or to pick up on those silly little mistakes we all let creep into our writing. My writing matured and improved considerably during the years we were together. And so did theirs. We all became published on a regular basis, and many moved on to book writing as well. Several of those who were in that original group are now teaching writing in conferences, adult-education classes, or correspondence courses. Every one of them would give a great deal of credit to what we learned together in that group. A bonus was the lifelong friendships that resulted.
Obviously some groups are more successful than others, but the important thing is to find a group in your area or get together with other writers to start one. Some groups are area-wide or state-wide groups that meet for instruction on a regular basis, and others are critique groups that meet monthly (some more often) to read and critique each other’s work.
In the group I belonged to, we each brought an articles, short story or book chapter to read each month. Each person read their piece, then we went around the circle having each one give their reaction. The reaction was to include at least one positive comment, followed by any suggestions for improvement. There were, of course, differences of opinion, so the reader is left to take the suggestions, process them, and decide which they will incorporate and which they will not. Since we were from various religious backgrounds, we were not allowed to critique the person’s theology, only the writing.
Obviously with 4-8 in this group, these meetings sometimes went until midnight by the time everyone had a turn. I know some groups that limit the number who can read, or the length of time allotted to each reader. That time limit would include the time to read and for the critiques combined. That way you can ask how many are reading and divide your time by that many, and keep everyone on schedule. Use an alarm clock or bell to keep things moving, if necessary.
Our meeting usually started with each one reporting their successes and rejections for the previous month, which proved to be very encouraging. We took turns being up or down so were an ongoing encouragement to each other. We also took turns bringing refreshments to share at the end of the meeting during an informal social time. Some groups skip that part.
When you set up a group, you will need to plan the components in a way that meet your particular needs. Some groups meet in the evening, some during the day, and some provide both a daytime and an evening meeting. Some of the smaller, more intense groups, may meet weekly or biweekly. Some groups don’t read, but each bring enough copies of their manuscript so the rest of the members can read and critique them on their own.
Another possibility, especially if you live in a remote area where you aren’t able to meet with other writers, is to do a round robin, either by snail mail or e-mail. In that case you send each other manuscripts to critique and then return. This doesn’t provide the fellowship, but you can keep in touch with other writers and get the personal feedback you need. Every writer can benefit from such groups.