Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Two Crit Litwit?

Hello, my name is Folio, and I’m a two crit litwit. A litwrit? A critwrit? Okay, a nitwit! Ahem.

Let’s try that again.

Hello, my name is Folio, and I belong to two critique groups. I love them both. Benefit from both. Why two? Because they're different. Yet some writers wonder whether they should even belong to one, let alone two.

I credit my friends in my first group (Uff Da!), with pushing me up the mountain. Or perhaps we linked hands and climbed the Fourteener together. We met at a class on How to Get Published, so we were all ambitious and at somewhat similar levels of experience. This proved invaluable. While there’s certainly an appeal to joining a group with members that have far more experience, consider whether that makes the slope a bit slippery. You might be an amazing talent, but if you’re trudging up the hill and don’t even know what to carry in your backpack, have to be guided every step of the way, it could be frustrating for everyone. Some groups I’m aware of require an “audition” before an invitation to join for exactly this reason.

Uff Da Cum Laude meets monthly, exchanges pages at one meeting and critiques them at the next. We’re friends, supporters, and cheerleaders. We love good stories. We’ve been through the battles of trying to get published and some of us have. Once, disaster visited. A man I’ll call Big Bad John asked if he could join our group. What an arrogant, unhappy person. He was loud, uber ambitious, and voiced the opinion that kindness had no place in critique. He preferred the slash and burn method. Didn’t care if there was blood on the trees.

After that first meeting our “old” members privately critiqued him as a potential member, and we disinvited him. Because of John we closed our group. That one encounter taught us how important it is to learn if you’re a fit for your critique group, and vice versa. I want critique and I’m pretty tough and resilient, but who needs deforestation? Not me. John apparently thought he did. I hope he found a group that shared his goals and preferences.

Enter my second group, the Sisters of the Quill. Oh sisters, was I ever flattered to be approached at a writer’s conference by an incredibly gracious author, Storm Petrel. She introduced herself, noted that we were from the same small town (displayed on our nametags). She belonged to a critique group with only a few members. Would I like to join them, try a meeting or two? Would I!?

That was many years ago and these days we meet weekly to work and critique. And to enjoy our friendship! Camaraderie is good in this solitary profession of ours. We have one long-distance member, and several years ago we began reporting our progress on a regular basis, sometimes daily, via email. We’ve found that one sister’s success can be celebrated, shared by all, as can coping with angst. Then every once in a while we meet for an all day or multi-day retreat. Talk about fun! We brainstorm and work hard, pound out plot points and eat wonderful food.

As you might gather, we’re supportive but at the same time aggressive, about getting published, that is! “What iffing” is sought out and appreciated. If something doesn’t work we say so, then it’s up to the sister to decide if she agrees. Or not. During this journey we've truly become sisters, in every best sense of the word. Such a treasure.

I know a few writers who think their voice will be massaged to a homogenized mush if they run their words through critique. I think it could happen. So remember that every comment should be filtered by you. After all, how many times have you started reading a bestseller and found it wasn't worth turning the pages? Opinions really do vary. So remember to be open, to really LISTEN to the comments about your work, and THEN decide whether to edit. At the same time, if you're not interested in changing and learning, and argue about every suggested improvement, then why bother with critique?

I hope you’re as blessed as I am with your friends in critique. In both of my groups what started as nervous meetings of strangers flourished, grew tall and strong, and now reach steadfastly for the quill or pen or keyboard.

Uff Da! SOTQ!



  1. Your reflective post is so timely for me. I've been wondering if I should continue with my critique group. Initially there were three of us; as we shared, we grew. Now we are a group of fifteen. Some are quite like the John you mentioned. Anytime I share a chapter it is ripped to shreds, and I need days to recover emotionally (yes, I can be thin-skinned). One lady harps on word choice. "I don't like this word here on page one and over here on page, three, I don't like this word." Another says I have men speaking differently than women. Or that my male characters are too focused on certain parts of the feminine anatomy. These women have never submitted anything while I am agented and have a book coming out in July. I also have a partial and full manuscript under consideration with publishers. I don't want to appear "better than", but I don't like being bashed either. Kudos to your group for uninviting John.

    I do have an online critiqe partner who is fabulous at asking questions that make me see weakness of craft. She is a tremendous help, believe me.

  2. I so get it. I belong to a critique group I love. They are so gracious about their criticism. And they are usually right!!!
    Great post!

  3. I enjoyed the post. I have a few beta readers who are very different in their views. It's great to have feed back and they're not afraid to let me know if something isn't working.:)

  4. If I didn't come away feeling empowered with knowledge and insight, if I felt more bruised that inspired, if I felt I'd given more than I could possibly get out of a group, I wouldn't be in a critique group. My two groups that operate in entirely different ways have been invaluable on my journey. I will owe much of my future success to them. Yes, never let your voice be combed out of your work. That is one of the greatest challenges. Inkpot

  5. Good for you for closing your group. When you know you have a good thing going, it's tempting to want to share that good thing with the world. But to do that is to lose the good thing.

    I'm in a closed group of four. It's heartbreaking sometimes to say no to good people who want in. But we say it.

  6. I know people who write without a critique group but I don't understand how. I NEED my partners, from brainstorming to line editing, they are essential to the process.

  7. Folio, beautifully said, as ever. Never could I have imagined what a blessing a critique group would be. Don't know what I'd do without the Sisters of the Quill! I encourage anyone who is without this sort of support to build a group from the bottom up. Look for a spark of recognition, kindness and ambition in your prospective group members. :-)

  8. I've been to Uff Da!

    It's a bar in northern Minnesota... or maybe Canada. The college kids in Minnesota go to Winnipeg for spring break.

    Why? Winnipeg? I think it has something to do with the drinking age... and cute hockey players.

    OK so maybe not really. But I'm technically in a couple of groups, with different projects. It's very interesting to learn about the vast array of perspectives out there.