Posts Tagged ‘critique’

In Praise of the Critique Marathon

There’s a lot of writing groups out there, and they offer a lot of different things. It’s been my experience that you have to test drive them as well–some may not be a good fit culturally, or the members may not be at the same level as you, etc., etc.

I belong to quite a few writing groups, and I try to attend/check regularly (depending on whether they’re in-person groups or online). I belong to one group that I found through agentqueryconnect.com (related to agentquery.com, which is a useful website to check out agents) that is much more focused on the end parts of writing than most of the other groups, specifically revision, submission, and marketing.

This group does a “marathon” each summer and winter. These are between 8 and 12 weeks long. Each week you post a section of your work (depending on the marathon, this may have to be a polished work that you’re considering/already submitting), usually a chapter or two. You have to critique at least two other people’s submissions (but can do as many as you like, and there’s a prize for doing the most) and other people come in and look at yours.

I’ve been a part of this group for about a year and a half, but aside from a week here or there, I’ve never managed the marathons before. But I’ve been doing the summer one (I came in three weeks late, but I’m still actually doing it) and it’s been amazing.

A couple months ago, I identified the first chapter of my YA paranormal as being the problem when querying it, so I resolved to fix that problem, and spending a week or two in the marathon seemed like a great way to get feedback. I think I thought I’d either switch projects after that (perhaps the high fantasy book I recently finished and is currently out with betas) or I’d bow out like I have in previous marathons.

But, lo, it was been eye-opening. We’re seven chapters into the book now, and I’m getting great feedback. Almost all of it is pretty minor (which is good, since I’ve been querying this!) but the feedback I’m getting is going to allow me to make this a tighter, more coherent story.

The nice thing about the marathon format versus a normal critique group format (where one or two people go per meeting, and meetings may be every other week or once a month) is that it immerses you more into the stories. It’s like a focused beta, almost. And it’s compact, so you don’t have to wait weeks or months while your group forgets previous chapters before it gets back to your turn. And if a chapter isn’t working, you can rewrite it and stick it back up, and get immediate feedback on what’s working better and what still needs some elbow-grease.

In short, it is my new favorite thing and I regret not doing the earlier ones.

(Though, to be honest, I always¬†intend¬†to do them, and then something else pops up. They’re not at the most convenient times–the winter one is in January/February, so there’s new year sundries that get in the way, and the summer one runs June through August and the small, mobile ones are everywhere and not in school–or I’m eyes deep in writing or another step of the process which is not revision.)

If you have a writing group that touches on critique, I’d recommend this technique. It’s really been way more helpful than I ever imagined.

Have other critiquing techniques you’d recommend, squiders?

Why Don’t Writing Groups Write?

So, back when I lived in California, I had a lovely group of people that I would write with. We’d go to a coffee shop, get a drink, maybe get a pastry (I am partial to chocolate pumpkin bread. Mmm), and we’d catch up for a few minutes, and then we’d write. For two or three hours at a go. And maybe we’d discuss techniques or craft or processes, or help someone with a plot issue, but the main point of the activity was to get something done, whether it was a new short story, editing an old novel, or fighting through a query letter.

We moved back to Colorado almost three years ago now, and I’ve yet to find a group whose point is doing rather than talking. I did have a Wednesday night group going for a bit, but while we sometimes got writing done, mostly we just socialized. And I’ve tried group after group, and they’re all either critique groups–which is good if you’ve got something written, but no good if you haven’t–or are craft groups, which is where people sit around and talk about how to write.

I dislike craft groups a lot. It’s not that I think I know everything about writing and don’t think I have anything left to learn. I don’t think that can ever be true of a writer. I just find that I tend to have a lot more experience than the other participants, and we spend a lot of time going over basics, or whoever’s leading’s trying to push their particular style on everyone, or we spend a lot of time working on activities designed to teach us how to do whatever, and I really really hate spending perfectly good writing time on writing exercises.

I despise writing exercises. I cannot learn through writing exercises and they make me extremely grumpy.

Every now and then I try to round up people who I feel are at a similar level to me, or at least write the same genre, and try to get a writing writing group going, but thus far it’s amounted to nothing.

What’s a girl to do? (Aside from sending the Landsquid to kidnap people, because I understand that’s frowned upon by society.) I have a lovely online group, but it’s very different to sit in a chatroom and write with people instead of doing it in person. (For one thing, your chatroom is not going to catch you if you’re off playing video games instead of what your should be doing.)

I’m going to try out a new group tonight–I found them at DCC, actually, when I stopped to talk to one of the other small presses, and while they alternate craft and critique meetings, I’m hoping I can at least network and maybe find some people up for writing. Also, the craft ones seem like they don’t always have a set topic, or someone presenting necessarily, so maybe they’re more discussion group-y, and I would be okay with that.

What do you look for in a writing group, Squiders? Have you had luck in your area?