Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why Join An Online Critique Group?

The article below has been published and answers the question in today's title. If you've ever thought about joining an online critique group, perhaps it will answer the question for you, too.


Why Join An Online Critique Group?

by Nancy Julien Kopp

The masterpiece is finished. You've written it, revised it, and revised it once more. The piece is ready to market. You're elated, until doubt floats by, but you ignore it while you scour the market guide. It isn't long before doubt creeps into the back of your mind and settles in. Maybe my work isn't as good as I think it is. Maybe no one else will note the beauty, the joy, the passion of these words like I do.

It's time for an opinion from your peers. It's time to join a critique group, time to expose your manuscript to other writers. No matter where a writer lives, all have the opportunity to join an online critique group. How do they operate? What will the writer receive, and what will the writer be required to give in return?

I joined an online writers critique group several years ago and have no regrets. I have turned some so-so stories and essays into marketable pieces. I’ve now been in two groups, and being a member has become a major part of my writing life. I consider the group members a family. But like all families, they don't hesitate to tell me when I have done a good job, nor do they hold back with criticism. In fact, they can be quite harsh in judging a submission. My groups have no “atta girl” philosophy. Praise is given when earned, but honest and fair criticism is also rendered.

The group I’m in requires a minimum of two submissions per month. For each submission, the writer is required to complete two critiques for other members. One of these must be a line by line (LBL) critique. Not all online critique groups operate the same way or with the same honest opinions as mine does. Members have related tales of critique groups that do nothing but praise, never giving constructive criticism. Their aim is to pump up the writer and stroke the ego. All well and good, but it won't sell a manuscript that needs work. If you join with the right attitude, the criticism will help far more than hurt.

To submit your precious words for praise and/or criticism puts you at high risk. The first time your work is harshly judged, negative emotions come raining down. Frustration, fear, and fury dart back and forth, attacking your head, your stomach, and your heart. Depression becomes the companion of the day, and your old friend, doubt, takes up residence once again.

All is not lost, however. Once you swim through all the above, you stand ready to accept suggestions to make the piece marketable. Those who critique offer a clear vision of what the manuscript needs. It may be a marvelous story but filled with unnecessary words that serve to detract. You might be vying for the award for the longest sentences in a manuscript or have too many awkward and choppy sentences. The critique may question areas that are clear to the writer but not the reader. Critique group members become masterful in pointing out passive verbs, places that tell rather than show, and unnecessary adverbs-easier to find in the writing of others than in your own. When we read our own writing, it’s that old “can’t see the forest for the trees” but red flags pop up easily when reading the work of another author.

I developed the habit of reading the critiques of other members. To do so was akin to taking a course in writing and critiquing. I put my observations to use in my own writing and have become a better writer. Writing exercises, grammar guides, and market information the group offers also enhance my writing ability.

My group has a closed membership with a waiting list. Members come and go, but there seems to be a core group of serious writers who continue to commit the necessary time required. And rest assured that belonging to a group like does take time. Those who do not participate fully are asked to leave. A group like this is not for the sometime writer.

There are many online critique groups, some of which are for one genre only and others that cover several areas of writing. Watch writer’s newsletters for announcements about critique groups. Put childrens’ writers online critique groups in a search engine and check the links it leads to. Try different combinations of keywords, such as online critique groups or writers’ critique groups. Check more than one search engine. The following links will give you lists of critique groups: http://www.internetwritingworkshop.org/index.shtml  and http://groups.msn.com/browse.msnw?catid=37 . You’ll need to take a careful look at the many groups listed, a sifting and sorting procedure worth your time. Do ask questions and learn the rules and regulations of a group before you agree to join. Make sure the requirements are within your ability to fulfill.

Some critique groups accept anyone who requests membership, while others require a writing sample and choose to either accept the writer or not. Even if you’re a beginner, don’t be afraid to apply if you must provide a writing sample. If your writing shows promise, they’ll most likely say yes. If you don’t get invited to join, try one of the other types of group first. No two groups are alike. Give any group you join a good two months before you decide to stay or leave. And if one doesn’t work out, try another. Find the one that is right for you.

The group I belong to tried something new several months ago. A full three-fourths of our members met in a regional park outside Washington DC for a four day retreat. Eighteen women, who had only known one another in the cyber-world, met face to face for the first time. Several members presented workshops covering various aspects of writing, and a computer expert was on hand to answer questions and give guidance. Members waded into the writing waters and created even stronger bonds within the group. Participants who attended hailed from the USA, Canada, Ireland, Shanghai and the Turks and Caicos Islands. The meeting proved to be such a success that Conference #2 is now in the planning stages.

Before joining, decide what you want from a critique group. A pat on the back is nice, but honest criticism will aid your growth as a writer and push Mr. Doubt right out of your mind.

1 comment:

  1. You know I've been a big fan of crit groups since joining yours. It really helped my writing. I may take a local class again soon. I need the social interaction :-)

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