Friday, February 3, 2017

What Will I Get From An Online Critique Group?

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The following is an article published 9 years ago about online critique groups. I am posting it today with comments in parentheses and blue to add to what was written long ago.

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.(true!) 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 its 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. These 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 participation on a semi-weekly basis. For each submission the writer is required to complete two critiques for other members.(now 2 subs per month/4 critiques) One of these must be a line by line (LBL) critique. Not all online critique groups operate the same way and with the same honest opinions. Members have related tales of(other) 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.

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(er) 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.(sometimes) 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 this 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. Activate a search engine or watch for announcements in writers' newsletters. (This does not mean all are great ones/assess carefully. Try one and leave if you are not getting benefits.)

The group I belong to is trying something new. A full three-fourths of our members are meeting in a regional park outside Washington DC for a four day retreat. We will meet face to face for the first time. Several members will present workshops covering various aspects of writing, and a computer expert will be on hand to answer questions. We’ll wade into the writing waters and create even stronger bonds within the group. Participants will gather from the USA, Canada, Ireland, Shanghai and the Turks and Caicos Islands. (At the end of March, we will meet again after having several face to face conferences. The benefits of such a conference are pure gold.)

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. (Join with the attitude that the criticism you receive is meant to help you become a better writer. )

(Another big benefit is that you can participate in your group looking like the lady above. I must admit that she resembles me on many a morning!)

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