9

I belong to a terrific critique group (writing group) that has dealt with a lot of attrition. We started with 6 people and currently have 4, one who joined after the first month or two. We also had another new person that didn't work out. Some people weren't a good fit but others left because they moved or got too busy to write.

We decided it works best for us to meet once a month and have 3 people present each time (instead of the 2 we've done lately). So we've been looking for new people to join us. And someone will be joining us this month!

We communicate on an email mailing list where we discuss logistics only and also post our work several days in advance of the meeting. The meetings themselves are at a member's home and last 1-2 hours, depending on the number of presenters and how much time each gets. This includes schmooze time. Each presenter reads all or part of their submitted work (depending on length) then everyone talks about it. Each presentation runs about half an hour, give or take.

It was easier with the other newcomers because they could catch up, but now all but one of us are very deep into novels, presenting 1-2 chapters every other month. If the newcomer starts in the middle she won't know what the heck is going on, who the characters are, how they've changed, etc. I'm not looking for proofreading. I'm looking for folks who will tell me how my plot is unfolding, if the characters seem true to themselves, etc.

How do we make this work? Do we require the newcomer to read 3 half-novels? Do we just accept that she won't be able to give substantial critique? We're happy with the group in every way except that we need to incorporate a couple extra members.

How can we keep our group both welcoming and effective?

  • @Cyn, did you see where recently I was asked to phrase my comments as requests for clarification? That's what I did, above. The comment is a request for clarification more than an answer. – DPT Jan 9 at 22:45
  • @DPT I didn't see that but I have seen you're one that gives really insightful comments but doesn't often write them up as answers. The first question you asked was definitely for clarification, but the second one I think would make a good answer because it talks about the holistic nature of a critique group and how to make it work even though people are coming at it from different places (and sometimes different times). – Cyn says make Monica whole Jan 9 at 22:48
  • Also @Cyn, without knowing the end, one cannot properly critique the beginning and middle. I don't think anyone needs to know either the beginning or the end to offer critique, but knowing the whole story can allow a different critique. – DPT Jan 9 at 22:48
  • @DPT my group all knows the ending :-D My first presentation was the outline. But not everyone prefers that I know. I do think it's important to know the beginning though...just like I won't start watching a movie in the middle. – Cyn says make Monica whole Jan 9 at 23:58
  • The new person came to our meeting yesterday and it was a terrific fit. I plan to update after she's been here a while so I can give an informed answer on what did and didn't work. – Cyn says make Monica whole Jan 25 at 23:02
6

The only solution I see is to let her start critiquing your novels from chapter 1; as you guys critique hers.

You can warn her your chapter 1 has been through a critique already; but she may have some new insight to offer you. She is another reader, after all, and a writer. (If Stephen King joined your group, wouldn't you like him to start with your Chapter 1?)

I (a discovery writer) typically finish my first draft in four months; but then spend another four months on cover-to-cover draft after draft, six is not unusual for me. Heck, JK Rowling rewrote the first Harry Potter novel for years, submitting to something like twenty publishers, before she got it published.

My point is, additional reviews from the start of your books won't hurt you, and will help her. I would add this is especially true of your Chapter 1: That deserves more scrutiny than almost anything, because it may represent your entire writing style to an agent or publisher. Nothing is more important than your first ten pages, when it comes to sales.

I wouldn't suggest your critique group operate on a "one and done" model. Let your new girl join and start from the beginning of your books, as you start from the beginning of hers.

If she wants to catch up and be part of the main conversation, of course she can. But she can also chime in with suggestions for problems raised by others. I can certainly critique a random chapter from a book with more than proofreading, I can point out problems with dialogue, description, pacing, and I have enough experience to know how to fix them. Don't underestimate her.

  • I never thought of asking her to start from the beginning. I will offer that as an option, thanks! – Cyn says make Monica whole Jan 9 at 22:36
  • 1
    "I can certainly critique a random chapter from a book with more than proofreading, I can point out problems with dialogue, description, pacing, and I have enough experience to know how to fix them. Don't underestimate her." Exactly. – DPT Jan 9 at 22:52
3

How the meeting is organized is extremely important. If it's efficient, then it's more welcoming. Unless I'm misunderstanding, as you have it set up now, you have 2 or 3 authors present 1 to 2 chapters once a month, and then you discuss. How long are these meetings, and how much time is left for providing feedback and discussion? After my full time job, I only have so much time in a day to commit. Additionally, if you have more than 3 members, it could be up to two months until you receive more feedback.

Thinking back to college writing classes, our homework for critique days was to read our peers drafted work, then come to class with our feedback. We'd spend the hour discussing up to 10 drafts. I think this is a very effective format for a few reasons:

  • Presenting aloud is intimidating - I am yet to be confident enough to present what I've written aloud, so any group that presented that way would be far too intimidating for me to join. Maybe more seasoned writers would be okay with this, but to be more welcoming, consider having your members post their drafts on a shared for the upcoming meeting. This also allows new members to backtrack on existing members' work, as well as post their own for review ahead of their first/second meeting.
  • Time - You could give a stipulation to post whatever work has been completed a week beforehand (be it a paragraph or a chapter or two - the time individuals may have during a month to write can vary, post what you have). Then, you could provide feedback for each author, more frequently. You'd also have more time during that meeting to have more in-depth discussion for each author's work. (Time is limited, and while reading the work ahead of time takes time, it's more spread out, and you can read that author's work when you get a chance the week before.) This also gives new members access to go back and read what's been written before in the time they are able (even if it's just catching up on one each month).
  • Preparedness - By reading the work ahead of time, you have more time to mull it over and think of constructive feedback. Maybe go the literal class-like route and do a write up (for the author to go back to later). I'm also one of those people who's slower to think. I provide my best feedback when I can take time to consider something, instead of having to respond immediately after having heard the content, and I think best while writing (which is why I write).
  • You gave a great answer on how to run a critique group, which I suppose was because my question was not clear enough. My apologies to you because I edited my question to clarify that what I was asking for was just how to incorporate a new member. My intention was not to invalidate your answer. And yes, we each present every other month. – Cyn says make Monica whole Jan 9 at 22:35
  • Ah! You're right, no worries. Perhaps I simply read it wrong because my subconscious is hoping to find a group similar to what I described someday. :) Just a thought while I'm typing, has the new member offered any ideas of how she would like to be incorporated in? Perhaps by letting her have some sway, it will will help with the welcoming factor. Best of luck! – Gwendolyn Jan 9 at 22:55
  • 1
    I haven't met her yet, not even online. I just know her name and guessed her gender from it. (Our organizer found her after placing an ad.) I thought it would be nice to get some ideas ahead of time then let her pick. She might even want to do different things for different people's work. I was also hoping people might say, we tried X and it worked or didn't work because of Y. – Cyn says make Monica whole Jan 9 at 23:56

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.