You meet in a creative writing class, and when the twelve week class ends you’ve formed a few friendships. It’s like when you were kids. “Hey, let’s put on a show. My mom can make costumes and I have a barn we can use. . .” You start your own renegade group. “Hey, we can write, meet every week and critique our work better than sitting in a big class and listening to…” Sounds good so far.
Everyone is equal. No one is published – yet, and you like and trust each other. Everyone works diligently and one day, you write The End to your first story. You are the one to write the first query and come to meetings with rejections but it’s your nature to survive and thrive. So you begin another story. The friends seem more interested in what you’re doing than in their writing and they become more critical. You keep writing and incorporate their ideas because you trust them.
Your first book is PUBLISHED! The women want to expand the group-a good idea-new blood-fresh input and you’re the first one with a real live book and now you’re not just a person who writes. You are an author. They purchase your book, you sign, so excited to be doing this, and continue writing the second story.
The expanded group has grown to ten. Not everyone brings pages to read to meeting. They eat lunch, talk about health and grandchildren, and finally get down to reading pages because it’s getting late. Lots of attention is paid to every comma you do or don’t use, and many questions about who, what, why have you written this and that. You drive home shaking your head. It’s getting to be a struggle. When book two is published, the congratulations slows to minimal and some of the women don’t purchase the book. Hmm. No biggie but hmm. You’re not looking for a standing ovation but it’s a huge accomplishment to be published. Ah well.
It’s unpleasant to discover friends can change and no longer be true friends. The sky is filled with stars; there’s room for all if us. If they feel my star has outshone theirs, perhaps it’s because I work and focus. I have the fever to express, to tell a story. And I’m not afraid to cry and laugh as I write. I’m not in competition with anyone. I write for the passion of writing.
I thought all this behavior was left behind when you grew up. I guess not.
If you’ve had similar experiences with critique groups, I’d sure like to hear about them. Just a snippet to let me know I’m not alone.
P.S. The VHP family welcomed me with open arms a few months ago. I thank all of you for making me feel at home.
NOTE from Kimberlee: I thought this might be a good place to add Smoky Trudeau's Critique Group Guidelines she uses in her classes, so thanks, Smoky!
GROUP CRITIQUE GUIDELINES
When You are Reviewing Another Student’s Work:
* Try to always begin with a positive comment. It is as important for writers to know what works with their writing in addition to what doesn’t.
* Be specific and objective. Offer suggestions, not just criticism. “I don’t know, I just don’t like it,” or “It was good, I liked it” are not specific, objective, or helpful.
* Direct your comments to the writing, not the writer.
* Don’t focus on grammar or punctuation—that’s the job of an editor, not of critique group members.
* Don’t repeat what others have already said.
When Your Work is Being Reviewed:
* Stay out of the discussion unless you are asked a specific question. This is hard, because you will want to defend your work. But you need to let the work speak for itself. If asked to clarify something, limit your response only to what is asked.
* Don’t take negative comments personally. No one is judging you—they are critiquing your work. Critique is NOT the same as criticism. Writers who don’t learn to distinguish between the two can rest assured they never will be published.
* Remember, ultimately you are the only one who can judge whether or not you take the advice offered by your peers. If you have doubts about their input, or need further clarification of comments, talk to your editor or publisher.