Why join a critique group?

I was asked recently to talk about the critique groups that Writers of Kern facilitates, and I thought it was an interesting enough topic to bring up here.  Many writers have never belonged to a critique group and don’t know how they work.  In fact, some of you might even be hesitant to join for fear of rejection or worse—fear someone will steal your idea.  Thankfully, none of that happens at WOK. 

Critique group discussing a submission.
Let me begin by explaining what makes a good critique group.  When I became the Writers of Kern president in June 2009, we had only one active critique group, the Sci-Fi/Fantasy group that currently meets on Thursday nights.  To date, they have survived the longest run, and I think it’s for three reasons: One, the core group has remained consistent and has had very little turnover; two, they meet in a home; and three, they are dedicated to their novels and are invested in each other.  The other critique groups floundered, though, and when asked for an update at meetings, most of them said they weren’t meeting because no one showed up.  It became frustrating to the members who had volunteered to moderate those groups.

Part of my goal as president was to see a resurgence of the critique group, and the best way I knew to do this
was to provide a structured format free from negativity, where writers could receive thoughtful feedback from others who had taken the time to read their stories in advance.  I can’t take any credit for the format I use; I unapologetically stole the structure from my creative writing class at Bakersfield College, where the instructor was very sensitive to the “writer’s ego” and knew that negativity of any kind could cause long term damage to one’s writing career.  From my instructor, I learned the magic critique formula that we use today when we establish any new critique group.

Why join a critique group?  Well, unless you live with an editor, my guess is that you aren’t getting a lot of feedback and probably have no one handing you deadlines.  That novel you’re working on is taking years (instead of months) to complete.  With a critique group, you know you must produce a new submission twice a month.  Once you’re at the meeting, your peers discuss your chapter (or short story) submission, while you sit and listen like a fly on the wall.  The idea behind the “perspective of a fly on a wall” method is so each writer may hear comments that an average reader might make.  For example, when my 17th century heroine speaks in French, I think it’s beautiful, lofty language, but I may learn through listening to a critique group that readers find the language confusing.  Valuable information!

With this format, each member of the critique group takes home the submissions they will be discussing at the next meeting.  This “take home method” is for two reasons: One, it allows members to review the submissions (as many as eight) at their leisure and make thoughtful comments directly on the copy; and two, it saves time at critique group meetings because we’ve all read the stories in advance and are already prepared to comment.

To date, we have four full critique groups (even our daytime group is already full!) but are always open to creating more.  The Sci-Fi/Fantasy group has openings, or if you are interested in being involved in a new, multi-genre critique group, please send an email to WritersOfKern@gmail.com with your preference (day or evening group) and what day of the week is best. We will be happy to start another group.


Labels: ,