1. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Any Advice for New Real Life Critique Group?

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Catrin Lewis, Jan 9, 2017.

    I've been looking for a real (physical) life critique group for over a year and a half, and it looks like it's finally coming together. I and two other writers, all members of a larger writers' association, will have our first meeting on Saturday the 28th, at the local library. :superyesh:

    It's three of us so far. The other two write contemporary YA. I write contemporary and historical whatever-strikes-my-fancy, so I hope it'll be a good fit and I won't feel ganged up on.

    We still have to organize this thing. Who here has been in a face-to-face critique group? Any advice? What rules have worked out for you and which have just gotten in the way? Links appreciated!

    (The ironic thing is that when I called the library today to book the room, the librarian said oh, there's another writers' group meeting there on the alternate Saturdays. That must have started after I first inquired about meeting space in October or so, because then the room was available every week. So now I'm wondering what they're all about.)
     
  2. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    I've been to the real-life face to face thing for a couple years now. I learned the hard way that some groups are better than others. Some groups just suck, there is no way around that.

    I made this as a resource for people looking for a critique group, but it would work as a guide for those trying to start one as well.
    http://khalielawright.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/20-Question-Critique.pdf and http://khalielawright.com/finding-the-right-group/

    I think the biggest thing is to be with a group of people where everyone contributes. I've found that the people who spew the vilest comments are those who never bring any work of their own to the table. I would also avoid the trap of "we only write X or only read X." Things like that set you up for trouble down the road and gives people a gateway to say, "I won't read Catrin's work because I don't agree with the use of X as a metaphor for Y," or "I won't read Cartin's work because it goes against my deeply held religious beliefs," or "I don't like poetry," or "I hate short stories," or "Even though this techinically is sci-fi because it's set on a spaceship, it's just to romancy for me, and I don't read romances."

    Also, be heavy handed when it comes to snarky critique. Just don't allow it. I was a member of a sci-fi/fantasy group where one member gave the following critique, "So you're basically writing 'Days of our Lives' in space and you had the audacity to blaspheme while doing it. It's not good and will never sell. No one will believe in a world where women can have sex with whom ever they please, when ever they please, where ever they please. You need to throw this out there is nothing worth saving." That's not a critique because it didn't focus on the writing, plot, characterization, structure, consistency of style and tone, elimination of redundancies, etc. It was mean for the sake of meanness and offered nothing of value. These people should get one warning, then be invited to leave.
     
  3. Iain Sparrow
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    Iain Sparrow Active Member

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    Best advice I can give, as many moons ago I belonged to an artists group that met every month... bring donuts.

    If you've just fed everyone donuts they'll likely go easier on you when it's your turn to be critiqued.
     
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  4. Phil Mitchell
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    Phil Mitchell Contributing Member

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    On the contrary I'd go much harsher on you. People chewing on donuts when I'm trying to get a mature discussion going would make me want to quit prettty quick.
     
  5. Mumble Bee
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    Mumble Bee In my defense, words are my weapons. Contributor

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    Make coffee.
    If necessary, spike said coffee.
     
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  6. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh, lordy. We're not set to meet till the 28th, but already yesterday one of the prospective members (not the convener; that's me) has said, "Hey! Let's upload our first two chapters into this Google Docs folder I've created and get started doing online crits for each other right now!" Wanting to be agreeable, I wrote back, said sure, and uploaded the first two of my WIP.

    But late last night I began to have serious (grim, dire, worried) second thoughts about the procedure, and I've just sent the other two an email calling time out. Ladies, we definitely should wait on the crits until we actually get together. It'll avert all sorts of problems.

    We'll see how the the others respond.
     
  7. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    I read your pdf checklist and I particularly like the one about whether members expect you to prove you made the changes they recommended. I take it the answer to that should be no?

    I see where you're coming from with "I would also avoid the trap of 'we only write X or only read X.'" We can learn from writers of various genres. And it's useful to leave space for any author in the group to explore new areas. However, I believe establishing the general scope of the group is a good thing. I would hate to end up in a group that contained primarily fantasy and science fiction writers, as I have scant patience with the world building process and almost no sympathy with a great many of the tropes. I'd be of little use to those authors, and it'd irritate me no end to have them telling me I should jazz up my contemporary romance thriller by creating a magic system or inserting a vampire or two. Similarly, it might be good to restrict a group to all fiction writers. If the writers of memoirs or technical manuals want to be in a group, they can convene their own. And if I should decide someday to focus strictly on Antediluvian Nephilim fantasy, maybe I should move to another group that critiques that sort of thing.

    I agree that generalized, summarily-judgemental criticism should be excluded. "It's not good and will never sell" is a waste of time. And oh, yes, no non-contributing silent sitters. Or non-contributing loudmouths, either.
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just as a quibble, I would think that some types of memoirs, biographies, and other books that narrate a series of events in a somewhat novel-like way would fit moderately nicely into a group mostly about fiction. You can't really suggest plot changes :) but there are a lot of things in common. To use a movie metaphor, if the book "plays" like a feature rather than a documentary, it seems like it would fit.

    I also feel a little miffy about a slight implication that nonfiction is just memoirs and technical manuals. I know that you didn't mean that and you're aware that there are countless other types of nonfiction books; I'm just suggesting that if that were to land in the rules unedited other people might also get miffy.
     
  9. Arcadeus
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    Arcadeus Senior Member

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    The way I've experienced that I believe was the best.
    When critiquing a specific piece:
    Readers should be given time to read and critique before the physical workshop is in session. (So I can understand putting the first few chapters online)
    Readers should bring if able a physical copy of the work with annotations/notes added.
    Now the actual workshop session-
    First- Author can't speak. Critique is spoken aloud and discussed between the remaining members of the writing group.
    Second- Readers can't speak. Author says anything that is pent up from keeping his/her mouth shut. The delay before speaking usually keeps someone from being too defensive during this phase.
    Third- Writer asks for questions from readers.
    Fourth- Writer can ask questions of readers.

    This method has worked very well for me. It might not work as well for your specific group. Figured I'd give my 2 pennies.
     
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  10. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    If the answer isn't no, find another group!

    Defining the scope is a good thing. Just don't make your scope too narrow, as in we only read/write historical fiction novella's set in the 1820's & 1830's and told from the point of view of French-Canadian fur trappers in the inter-mountain west.

    If you are dedicated to historical fiction be open to all of it. Don't turn someone away because they jumped ahead and wrote about the pony express, covered the great depression, told their story from the point of view of a adolescent Native American girl, or wrote about Irish immigrants who migrated west after the influenza epidemic and Boston police riots of 1918, or whatever.

    ETA: You can exchange chapters, read ahead of time, then deliver the critique when you are there. The extra time to read would give you more time to deliver a higher quality critique.
     
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  11. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member Contributor

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    You should definitely stay with the email system. It saves a lot of time and gets the group on track right away. Set some ground rules, new members can only send 10 pages max for 3 months or something along those lines. This will weed out the one meeting wonders who just want one thing critiqued an then move on.
    Make it so everyone is required to write something. Nothing worse than the guy who comes to six meetings and has nothing to show for it. Make it simple, even a one page essay is okay on any topic. If a person does not have time to write one page on anything, do you really need them in your group.
    Mix it up sometimes also. Meeting at the library is fine, but maybe one of the summer months meet at the nearby park or something like that. A group I am in now that meets at Barnes and Noble had everyone who wanted to go to a Christmas dinner at a nearby restaurant.
    Try to make it as enjoyable as you can.
     

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