I lost a follower over last week’s post. I’m surprised; it seemed one of my blander ones. But I guess you can’t express any kind of opinion without offending somebody somewhere. Opinions are always subjective. That was pretty much my point—it’s why a critique group can be the best or worst thing that ever happened to your writing.
Most people who say they love their critique group(s) seem to have done some shopping around. That’s hard to do when the group is a class or a workshop you’ve paid for, so free groups may actually be the most useful: they’re more fluid and easier to ditch.
Most of the comments I got last week were pro-group, and a number of commenters included links to other great posts on giving/getting feedback and group mentality. Children’s book author Jan Markely has a fascinating article on what she learned from a multi-ethnic writers group, and MFA survivor Bookfraud has a wonderful piece on good boundaries for in-family critiquing. (And some must-read advice for writers considering an MFA.)
The always-helpful Hope C. Clark also posted a great, simple set of rules for critique groups on her Funds For Writers Website this week.
People also pointed out that, aside from feedback, groups provide handy deadlines to keep you on a writing schedule plus a group of friends who can share your joy when you get that nibble from an agent, and provide crying-shoulders when the rejections come. And whether or not the feedback is useful, just reading your piece aloud can help you polish your work.
Successful groups—whether single- or multi-genre, limited or multi-culti/skill level/generational—seem to have one thing in common. They keep to a prescribed set of rules and have a designated moderator.
I’m talking rules of behavior, not writing. Rigid writing rules can strait-jacket creativity, but requirements like no arguing, no personal attacks, and no all-negative comments keep bullies under control and remind people to use good manners. And manners boil down to the most important rule of all—the Golden one. If something would feel hurtful/unhelpful to you, don’t say it/do it/post it to others. Amazing how many people have trouble grasping that concept, isn’t it?
Writers Digest has a useful interview with critique group guru Becky Levine, author of the Writers and Critique Group Survival Guide. She has some inspiring writing group success stories. Her book looks very thorough, if a bit pricey for a paperback. It might be worth the investment as a joint purchase for a group.
So what have been your experiences with groups? Have you ever abandoned what later turned out to be a good project because of a bad critique? Stopped writing altogether? Considered suicide/homicide after a toxic comment?
Or has your group provided you with a free MFA, a throng of life-long friends and/or catapulted you to successful publication heights you never dreamed of?
I’d love to hear your stories. Go ahead and vent. But I hope you won’t unfollow. It feels like getting a nasty critique.