Whence cometh thy critique?

In the last few days, I started three different blog posts and finished nary a one. Obviously, I’m out of touch with my brain right now. I spent two afternoons working in the garden, so it could be an allergy effect. In any case, I have nothing particularly witty or profound to say at the moment. (But I do sometimes, don’t I?)

I am working on both a novel and some short stories. Oooh, I just thought of how Demetri Martin writes with both hands at the same time. Wouldn’t it be cool if I could type on two keyboards simultaneously—one for the short story and the other for the novel chapter? I could be as prolific as Joyce Carol Oates. Not as good a writer, of course, but equally prolific. (Forgive me, I’m writing this with a headache.)

ANYWAY, I’ve been wondering how I’ll get critique on my works-in-progress. I no longer have access to a live critique group, and I’ve never been able to work up enthusiasm for joining online groups where I know no one—or more importantly—know nothing about anyone’s writing skills.

That led me to wondering how you all get feedback on your work. Do you seek it from one, a few, or many? Do you prefer live groups or virtual? Have those preferences changed over time? If you’re in a group, how does yours work? Specifically: How often do you meet? Do you read aloud? Do you receive the work ahead of time and critique at home, so you only discuss it at the meeting? How many members do you think is optimum? Do you critique all lengths of work?

What say ye?

Image © Drawing Hands by M. C. Escher, 1948

26 thoughts on “Whence cometh thy critique?

  1. I used to be a member of a critique group years back, now I go it alone except for two “beta readers” who read over my manuscript after I have it about where I want it. They let me know if I’ve a “whole complete novel” and if there is anything that “bumps” them from the story or whatever.

    One of the readers is a long-time friend for whom I trust. The other varies.

    Other than that, it’s just my computer, me, the words. Sometimes I do miss brainstorming and talking about the work – and when I have an opportunity to do that, I’m always excited and happy, but that doesn’t happen often, rarely really. Mostly because I am a bit isolated here in the mountain cove, and my friends live in South Louisiana and other places.

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    1. Ah, someday I hope to be such a confident writer, Kat. 😉 You’re very fortunate to have that trusty long-time friend. I might just as well be in a mountain cove, as isolated as I am, so I’m thankful for the online writing community.

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  2. I used to be a member and president of a writing group specifically for critique in college….boy, do I miss that! We even put out a few publications consisting of works we’d workshopped together a few years, too. I’ve been thinking of trying to put together something like that where I live now, but I don’t have the time or energy right at this moment! I haven’t had a lot of need for critique lately…I’ve been working on pumping out material, but sometimes you just want that affirmation that what you’re writing is headed in the right direction….

    As soon as I get some work together for a collection, I’ll be using beta readers for the first time, so that should be an interesting experience. I’ve also considered putting up a page on my blog with a short story every week ,and if anyone wants to chime in with some crit, they can. I just thought of that today, so I don’t know how that will pan out.

    I’m totally with you on the brain being out fishing lately, though. I can’t seem to focus on anything. Ugh….Thankfully, feelings like that always seem to pass in good time!

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    1. L.S. one bit of warning, if you plan to submit your stories to online journals you might not want to post them on your blog because many/most of them will consider that a use of first electronic rights.

      I like to use beta readers after a piece is fairly polished, so I like to run it through critique first. Of course, it’s usually not as polished as I think it is. 😦

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      1. I have thought of that, yeah. That’s why I plan to have it just be temporary, nothing permanent. As in, just up for a week and then deleted from the blogsphere. I’m sure that still muddies the waters quite a bit, but I’m planning on focusing on a lot of self-publishing with most of these stories, too, so they’re kind of the ones I’ve given up on submitting and just decided to do myself. 🙂

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  3. I’ve never cared for organized critique groups – online or offline, so I ‘ve always stuck with very person relationships with those who beta read my work. I let my mother read my work in draft form, but she is not a beta reader, as well as some other family members. A few others get my drafts, but not many, and these are my golden readers. At most, four or five people, but never all at once. I’ve spent years making these relationships, so when I’ve found writers and readers I click with for feedback, I hold onto them as much as I can. My publisher is also extremely helpful, as well as my editor. I think this is one of the reasons writers really like to get an agent – a professional feedback sort of relationship. Over the years, I’ve lost some of my beta readers for various reasons, and gained new ones. Some have been around for a long time.

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    1. I agree with your assessment that one of the reasons writers want an agent is to get professional feedback, Michelle. I’m not sure how to go about finding them, but I hope in a few years I’ll have the dependable feedback relationships you have.

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  4. Linda – I’ve started some blog posts that are still stuck in draft mode. Some have titles as well as a line or 2. My local library offers a writers’ group that I’ve been considering for about 3 years, now. Also, NaNoWriMo offers a critique group close to me as well. I don’t have much to critique, yet. But, when I reach that stage, I plan to check these out just to meet other writers who live near me.

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    1. Thanks for the library idea, Kate. I’ll check to see if they have anything like that. I’ve been in three local groups with varying success, but none of those still exist. At this stage of my writing, I’d rather not be in a group that’s a mix of fiction, non-fiction, screenplay, memoir, and poetry writers. Also, it takes a special kind of group to workshop novels.

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  5. I belong to Chrysalis, a women writers group based at a local community college. They have been meeting Wednesdays 12-2 for 20 years, a terrific core group, most of them published, with others who come and go (including me). Bring 12-15 copies Sign in when you arrive, read in that order, about 1000 words with 5 minute critique. You get back 15 corrected versions and good comments, truthful and honest.

    I don’t put many friends or relatives on the spot. Besides not being writers themselves, they wouldn’t want to “hurt feelings.”

    I hope you find a technique that satisfies your needs.

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    1. Mary Jean, I’m curious how in depth the critique is when you read and edit on the spot. I know I might find some typos and maybe an awkward sentence that quickly, but I need time to read, reread, and then mark up when I give real feedback. Then again, I work slowly. 😦

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      1. Fifteen to twenty people reading it catch just about everything. Week to week, they know the continuity of place and character and catch those glitches or non sequitors (sp) too. Hearing someone else read it aloud is telling also. And they are honest. Those who purchase the book will “read and critique on the spot” for sure.

        You have the best blog. I enjoy every entry.

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        1. Your scenario would be an ideal group, Mary Jean. Unfortunately, in the groups I’ve been in the membership fluctuated constantly, so very few members would “know the continuity of place and character” if you tried submitting novel chapters. Plus, we could only critique 2 or 3 submissions each meeting, so even though I submitted every chance I got in the large group, after a year, we’d only gotten through six chapters of my novel.

          And thank you. 🙂

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  6. I’ve been trying to get feedback from mostly online sources. I could ask my family what they think but I’ve been looking for more technical help. It isn’t working out at all lol. I think it has something to do with how on the internet, we’re only words on a screen but in various forums people are far more cruel than they (probably) would be if you were speaking to them face-to-face.

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    1. I agree, Niqui, that it’s easy to lose sight of the person behind the screen, though some people are just as harsh in person. Our writing is such a personal thing it hurts to get negative comments on it, but if they’re warranted we need that. It doesn’t help us grow when we only get pats on the back. Of course, you have to learn to discern which comments actually have value. I hope you find a group that fits you soon.

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  7. Good questions, and it’s interesting to see the responses you’ve gotten. I used to think I’d like to have a face-to-face critique group, but as I write longer narratives and move farther away from literary fiction, I’d just as soon have a couple of people read sorta kinda completed pieces and tell me where they fall short from a story perspective. And that is easier, I think, to do with a virtual critique group. (Of course, I’d also like these readers to show me how/where to knock a story line out of a muddy ball park with some unexpected piece of brilliance.)

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  8. At this point, I have two critique partners, but only one is a writer, and those pieces are shared over email. My husband also reads all my work. Though he isn’t a writer, he is an excellent reader and knows quite a bit about story structure and flow. I am tempted to give the local Barnes and Noble writing group a whirl. I hear they are quite honest and “tough.” I’d like to see this for myself.

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  9. I belong to 2 critique groups, both quite differnt. I get a nice variety of feedback, some I use, some I don’t. If more than one person says the same thing, I take notice though. In one group we take turns reading while the others listen and take notes. Then they pass on their observations from a listener’s point of view. In the other group we email our selections ahead of time and then we read it to the group when we meet. These women are very detailed and sometimes go over it line by line, but they find a lot of small things I had missed. In the end both help me to produce better work. Without these groups I would have never completed my first novel.

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    1. I’ve never been in a group that read aloud, Darlene. My first impression is that I wouldn’t like that at all. But I’ve gained immeasurably from the critique partners I’ve had. Isn’t it amazing how each person picks up on something different? Or at least that’s how my last, small, group worked.

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  10. You have touched on a popular topic, Linda. I have very little luck with critique partners too, but at least I’m not the only one.
    I have a friend that reads for me but she’s only somewhat helpfully since she isn’t a writer and she reads a very different genre than I write. Of course this leads to her suggesting that I add a car chase or an explosion into my romance novels. Again, not very helpful. 🙂
    Good luck with your search. I’m thinking about joining SavvyAuthors.com, they have several different types of groups that may benefit me.

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