Guest Post: Let’s Get Together: Building a Cohesive Online Critique Group by Melinda Pierce
When I entered the realm of writing, I did so in secret. Concerned I’d be laughed at by family, friends and even my husband, I didn’t tell a soul. It took several months of internet research and deciding what type of writer I wanted to be before I found the wonderful world of writing communities, and from there my very first critique group. I count myself among the lucky when it comes to critique partners. I’ve only had the most supportive and endearing ladies on the other side of the computer.
I owe that very first critique group more than a simple acknowledgement hidden in the back of my first book. My early writing education came from this group of determined ladies who will forever hold a special place in my heart. For about three years we shared everything from congratulations on finishing a project to congratulations on babies and grandbabies. We were a team, and a writing force to be reckoned with. Every single lady from our group is either multi-published or contracted. However, valuing the success of a critique group is more than who is published, it’s about strengthening yourself as a writer and understanding that you are not alone on what is sometimes a long, heart wrenching journey to publication.
How did we do it? Simple, we created a plan from the very beginning. We researched critique group articles such as this one and we made sure we had the rules in place before we exchanged a single chapter.
I’d love to share with you a few tips that worked for our group with the caveat not every item below will work for you.
- The Director: Let’s face it, as democratic as we’d like things to be, someone has to be in charge. Someone has to make the final calls and be the tie breaker on big decisions. This person has to rally the troops when morale is down, and be the bad guy when a member needs to be removed from the group. It can be an uncomfortable position and at times an immensely rewarding one, but without someone in charge the group may not survive. My advice is to name your director, team leader, or CP President from day one.
- The Rules: Chances are some in your group will be a rule follower while others are born to break the rules. Prepare to be flexible, but firm on a set of rules. For example, setting the amount of chapters that can be posted and the expected time frame of completion of the critiques. The members will flourish if they have a routine and know what to expect. Type up the group rules, and not only share them with the group, but make them available for the group to pull up at any time. Depending on what type of format you are using for exchanging critiques, it is a good idea to have them posted for easy reference.
- Keep it or dump it: I enjoyed a group setting early on because it allowed me to learn from several writers at one time. As a beginner there is so much information to soak up and your writing peers can be a tome of information. Everyone in the group will come from different backgrounds and have a variety of life experiences. It is very important to understand that not every critique comment will contain a fleck of gold. Have an open mind but understand it is ultimately your manuscript and your world to create. Take or leave the critique comments and then move on.
- Be courteous: Oh, this is a given, right? In the fast moving age of the internet it is often very easy to forget your manners, and remember that a living, breathing soul is on the other side of the computer. Give a thank you for every critique you receive. If you have questions, ask. Do not start an argument with your critique partner about the comments or feel you need to defend your writing. An argument will only take up precious writing time and will cause discord in the group. See the take it or leave comment above.
- Share it all: Share it all when it comes to writing life, that is. A critique group is not the place to share your marital or day job woes. It is the place to share a great writing article you found on point of view. It’s a great place to cheer each other on after you submit your manuscript, or to cry together over a hateful review. From time to time you’ll want to share personal ups and downs, and that is fine as long as it doesn’t become an awkward conversation that takes away from the purpose of the group.
Above is a taste of what I believe can make a cohesive online critique group. As you come together, you’ll find ways to strengthen yours. My final tip would be to know when to let go. If the group isn’t working, don’t force it. If one member isn’t working, it’s okay to ask them to leave. You owe it to yourself to form or join a critique group that values success.
Thanks for stopping by and Happy Writing!
Melinda B. Pierce is an author hobbyist, mother of two, and Membership Director for Savvy Authors. When she has time she writes in almost every sub-genre of romance and refuses to follow the path of most resistance. Connect with her on twitter @MelindaBPierce and join her as she leads the Four Point Critique workshop in October.