"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it." - Hebrews 13:2

Friday, July 29, 2011

Critique Groups

Schmucker Hall
The Lutheran Theological Seminary ~ Gettysburg, PA
Photo by Loree Huebner

Last Saturday, I went to a writers group meeting at a local coffee house. The group has many talented writers, several which are published. We all bring something to read that we’ve written—a poem, a chapter, a part of a screen play, or even a letter. It had been awhile since I had come to a meeting because Saturday afternoons are just a hard time for me to get away. Sometimes I’m working or it’s spent with the family if I’m off. Six showed up at the Saturday meeting. I brought the first chapter of the book that I will be querying soon. Nope, I still haven’t queried yet. The book is not quite ready.

We pass out copies of the material to be read. After reading half of my first chapter out loud, I was very pleased at the response, but also at the incredible advice I received from my fellow writers. There was a paragraph pointed out to me that needed some structural work and a few grammar mistakes. It’s funny how you can be so close to the material and not see what needs to be fixed—even after going over it umpteen million times…very, very helpful. After realizing this, I can’t express enough the importance of critique partners that you can be honest with and that will be honest with you. Outside of the group, I have two individual partners that give me sincere feedback.
A critique from a group is different than from an individual partner.
As in any group, I was suddenly hit with a barrage of suggestions, likes and dislikes, grammar, or the removal of an unnecessary phrase or sentence. I loved it! At times, I couldn’t keep up with writing down all of the excellent points. During this session, something else important also happened. There was one man there who was very quiet as others were voicing their technical opinions. When questions arose about the heroine’s sister, he spoke up. He was the only one who could see the direction I was going with the story after one half of a chapter. His insight was amazing. He didn’t seem interested in the grammar or sentence structure…he was really interested in the story. That spoke volumes to me.
When I got home, I waded through all the evaluations that I had received. You have to go on your gut instinct at this point—use what makes sense, what is true, and throw away the rest. I believe I received that same advice when raising my children. Like we know our own children, we know our own stories. I cannot tell you how much I appreciated all the good and negative points I got. It opened my eyes. I’m going through the book one last time before I query.
I believe we can receive valuable help and information from using both group and individual partners.
Do you have a critique partner or group? What tips could you share about appraising someone else’s work? Have you had good experiences in a group situation? Which do you like better - group or individual reviews? I do it as much as anyone ~ Do you think that sometimes we just need to turn off that internal editor and enjoy the story?

I would love to hear from you.
Between you, me and the gatepost,


Jessica R. Patch said...

Great post, Loree!

I have a crit group. They each read the ms and do the track changes. I chew the meat and spit out the bones. :)

I also have an individual partner.

I like having both. One thing I try to do when critiquing, is listen for the author's voice and not try to staunch it. Especially in dialogue.

I don't make any comments at first, unless it's really good or a grammar error. I want to get a feel for the writer. Unless, it's someone I've worked with a lot and I know her voice. Then I can start marking right away! ;)

Loree Huebner said...

Jess: Thanks for your input here. I did find the group a bit more overwhelming. They were coming at me from all directions, but it was fun. I love the different views.

I'm like you when I'm reading/listening to other pieces. I'm quiet until I get to know their voice better.

Thanks for stopping in!

Rachel Brooks said...

It's wonderful that you are taking your time before querying. So many people rush the MS polishing process. Then their novel isn't really ready for agents, as much as they want it to be.

You're so right about critique partners being a great resource. It's so much easier for someone else to catch mistakes and give advice, whether they are for big or small changes.

I swear I check my MS over and over, yet other people can still find a little mistake like typing "form" instead of "from." Our eyes just auto-fix everything. Plus our brain fills in the missing facts because it's our story idea. Other people can see what didn't make it to the page that we thought did.

Shopgirl said...

Great info about critique groups. I haven't found one that worked for a long time, but recently there was some sparks in a meeting. I of course also need to write more (longer) pieces to get the full benefit of the group.

Individual partner may be what I need too for the moment.

Loree Huebner said...

Writing from the road right now...

Rachel: You're so right. I swear I checked that first chapter over many times and still someone found a minor typo...go figure.

I'm not going to rush it this time.

Thanks for popping in!

shopgirl: Go with what feels right for you. Love your picture!!

Thanks for commenting!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I love it when someone looks at the big picture and focuses on helping you with "STORY", not nit-picking on grammar and word choices, sentence structure, etc.

Group work is great to see common problems.

I hope your editing goes really well and you submit soon!

Heather Sunseri said...

I agree with Eileen. I get help all the time with grammar, typos, show don't tell, but I love when someone actually "gets" my story and is willing to help me make the story better.

I haven't actually experienced a crit group, but I've had a few partners. They are always very helpful.

Loree Huebner said...

Eileen and Heather: I so agree that it really touches you when someone "gets" the story or "looks at the bigger picture" all around the typos.
It was an awesome feeling...

Thank you both for coming by1

Tana Adams said...

I do and I think they are invaluable, but I do also rely quite a bit on my inner editor. She's the toughest of them all. ;)

Loree Huebner said...

Tana: Yep. I know that inner tough inner editor. Ha!

Thanks for commenting.

Teresa said...

I belong to a large writers critique group and also I work with a small group of authors bi-weekly on chapter by chapter of our books. Both groups have published and unpublished authors. In the large group we have a rule, no blood on the floor. If you can not say anything constructive, then don't say anything at all. Some authors will say ahead of time what they are looking for. If it's grammar then after the reading that is what is discussed, if it's plot, structure, etc. That is what is discussed. Everyone is more than welcome to make notes on the provided copies of non-discussed items for the author to go over at a later time.
My private group we tackle everything. From structure to grammar, but always in a positive way. We have huge support for each other as writers and we are all there to support our careers to publication.
Great post!! Thanks for sharing

Teresa said...

Oh forgot to mention! I write American Historical too!!

Loree Huebner said...

Teresa: Welcome here!

I think both of your groups sound wonderful. We all need that support system for our writing.
In my group, I passed out copies and they marked on them. After the discussion, I got the copies back so I could see what they marked.

Thanks for chiming in, and I'm always thrilled to meet an American Historical writer too! Awesome!

Julie Musil said...

The beautiful thing is you are OPEN to the critique, which means you get so much out of it! I truly value my critique partners. Their thoughts and advice make a huge difference in my work. Like you said, sometimes we're so close to it we don't see the warts OR the gems!

I wish you good luck with the query process!

Loree Huebner said...

Julie: I am very open to the critiques. It's the only way to learn. Took me a long time to learn just that.

Thanks for your well wishes and have a great time on your trip!

Jessica Nelson said...

I adore my crit group! It's really important to be able to wade through what works for you and what doesn't. Sentence structure, etc is a part of voice so I don't care to nitpick that unless it's confusing to me somehow. ;-) While they can be overwhelming, I def. think group crits can be valuable, both for polishing our work and for keeping us humble. lol I'm glad you were able to go!

Loree Huebner said...

Jessica: I think you hit it on the head...It keeps us humble. Yeah, that's it! Most definitely!

I'm going to try to go again this Saturday. I have the day off.

Thanks for popping in!

Gwendolyn Gage said...

I'm glad you posted this! I have been interested in getting involved with a critique group, but I don't know where to start. Well, I guess I did start in a way, by posting my work in progress on my blog :-) How did you go about finding your crit group?

Loree Huebner said...

Gwen: I looked it up online. I looked under writers groups near where I live. I found two. They had websites. I found times and days they meet.

I love your blog! Can't wait for the next chapter.

Thanks for stopping in!

J.L. Campbell said...

Hi, Loree,

Some writers say that too many voices become confusing, but I believe that each reader/critique partner brings something different to the table. Five people will read something I've written and offer good advice and the sixth person will come along and point out something every other reader missed. I like the variety that comes with different readers and I've wise enough to know now what feels right and what won't work for my style of writing.

Damyanti said...

A critique group is invaluable. I wish I had one. When I used to have one (in a different country) I let all the advice lie around for a cooling off period before I started applying them to the story. That helped a lot.

All the best with your WIP and your query!

Loree Huebner said...

J.L.: I agree. Each person brought something different to the table. I was overwhelmed but loving it!
J. L. - Welcome here and thanks for commenting!

Damyanti: Glad you came by! I did let some of the advice cool off for a few days - phrase changes...etc. I looked at them again a few days later. Some made more sense then.

Thank you both for stopping in and sharing.