Thursday, June 19, 2008

Should You Join a Book Critique Group ?

I have been in a critique group for seven years, and it has been a great experience. The five of us are all focused on novels, but we work in a variety of genres. Two of us are published and the others are working toward that goal. Age ranges from mid-thirties to mid-seventies. We are all the same age, however, when we critique each other’s work.

In our weekly meeting, we read our most recent compositions, usually about ten pages. Each reviewer provides feedback describing good and bad aspects of the writing. We offer advice with the intent of helping the author; nobody shows off. The author considers the feedback and decides what, if anything, should be modified.

Actually it’s more than just a critique group. Our coach and group leader begins each session with a twenty minute discussion of a writing topic. While the coach leads the discussion, we all participate.

I’d have to say we are many things: a critique group, a workshop, and a gathering of friends.The secret of our success is compatibility and talent. We keep the group small and invite an occasional new member only if she gets along well with the existing members. It is also important that her writing skills are at a reasonably good level. Bringing a novice into the group wouldn’t be fair to anyone.

I look forward to these weekly meetings. In addition to the usually on-point feedback, we enjoy needling each other, which leads to a ton of laughs.And it’s not just weekly critique sessions; we have a dinner party about every six weeks. This Sunday it’s my turn to host the party. Spouses and friends are invited; twelve to fifteen people usually attend. The host provides the entrĂ©e and each guest brings food or wine. In addition to a great meal, each writer reads a chapter of his latest manuscript, which often leads to a lively discussion.

I guess the point of this piece is that a critique group can be a great asset. Our approach has included both social and work aspects, and it has passed the test of time, but it’s just one example. Set it up the way that works best for your group.

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