Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Making Critique Groups Work for You in Three Easy Steps

I am in a couple of critique groups and I founded a critique group for the Glendale Library system and facilitated it for a while. Generally speaking, critique groups sort of passed off my radar but now I’m hearing more about them again, probably because it’s a frugal way to learn more about our craft (though we could sure learn more about marketing our books the same way!)

If you’re considering starting a critique group, or joining one, you should know there are open and closed groups. Open groups tend to draw mostly newbies and, in that case, the information that is gleaned there may be very valuable if the group members keep in mind that the critiques are more like advice and opinions that would come from a general reader rather than from someone experienced in writing.  They usually don't work very well without a facilitator.

Closed groups may have an experienced facilitator or not, but they usually invite members based on their genre or writing experience. 

Though open critique groups can be valuable (poets can learn from novelists and novelists can learn a lot from screenwriters!), I believe that advanced writers will get more from closed ones.
Having said that, I think the best critique groups are those that writers assemble for themselves. Here’s how to do it:

~Take a class in writing in the genre you prefer with a well-vetted instructor. You'll be more assured you'll get expertise if you choose classes offered by universities or by respected program like Gotham in New York or UCLA Extension Writers’ Program—both on campus and online.

~After you have a handle on who you're compatible with, who will bring some experience to the group, etc., ask them to become part of your newly formed group.

~Assign the most critique-group member as a facilitator or--if you choose not to use one--set critique group guidelines to avoid the many pitfalls that plague critique groups.

In my first class at UCLA Writers' Program, our teacher took the time to put people she thought would be writing-compatible together. She is now part of the very critique group that she put together for us. In ten years we had come such a long way she felt that we had something to offer. (-:

Anyone interested in having a copy of the guidelines I put together for my group may e-mail me with CRITIQUE GROUP REQUEST in the subject line. The address is hojonews (at) AOL (dot) com.  I’ll send it as an attachment.

You can use it as a guide for your own group or share it with others, but if you do, please credit me. It is my own method based on principles used in therapy group, well run twelve step groups, and the ones I used in my classes at UCLA and the ones I  observed when I took classes myself.-----
Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't; The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . The Great First Impression Book Proposal is her newest booklet for writers. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor . If your followers at Twitter would benefit from this blog post, please use the little Green widget to let them know about this blog:

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