Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Starting a Writing Critique Group

I would like to start this post off by sharing a youtube video of a song I recently caught on the radio. If you have a few minutes, check it out. It might not be your thing, but you never know.

This song is called Firefles, it's by Owl City, and I like it. I like it in the way I want people to enjoy my writing. I can only imagine someone reading one of my stories or a book of mine and immediately thinking, "Whoa, I want to read that again."

We can dream, right?

But let's talk about now and the path from here to there, shall we? I've been kicking around the idea of starting up a critique group. I was thinking something along the lines of an email based group where you send a sample of writing for critique by a certain date every month and get feedback from the other members. In return, you offer constructive feedback on their pieces.

I don't have a whole lot of time where I just sit around waiting for something to happen, so I figure that I'll need to keep the group to a manageable size. I've got 3 other people lined up so far, but I was thinking that maybe 2 or 3 more people would be fine. Absolutely no more than that or we'd all spend as much or more time reading than actually writing.

So, what are some other considerations that I should keep in mind?

Submission Length - Having a max length specification would ensure that people don't get too bogged down with one author's work. So what should be the max? 2,000 words? 4000 words? Probably no more than that. 4,000 words x 6 members (excluding self) = 24,000 words + the time it takes to write sincere feedback for each. (Yeah, 7 people is definitely the max for a critique group.)

Date Specifications - If everyone is going to be emailing their work for feedback each month, there are going to have to be some specifications. Such as, when pieces will be emailed, and when feedback should be given by.

Content Guidelines - To keep people from being offended, it won't do to have sexually graphic or overly violent pieces submitted to the group for review. Besides, are you really going to get a thorough review if someone is too focused on the controversy?

Now that I think about it, people tend to like to send out emails they receive to people in their address book. I suppose some sort of rule should be set as to what is and isn't acceptable to send out. For example, I might enjoy a good post about plot design or rewriting techniques, but I really do hate those chain emails and hoaxes telling me that IBM and AOL have teamed up with Microsoft to send me money for every time I pester everyone with an email address that I know. I suppose that's one of the issues with having email-based submissions. A forum might be better, but what forum solutions are there? I've only ever ran a forum from a site I had hosting for.

Anyway, while I'm pondering over the specifics, would any of you be interested? I only ask that you volunteer if you can submit at least one piece per month and offer constructive feedback for other writers. What you stand to gain is a group of writers of various skill levels that can help you focus and shape your writing, rejoice in your successes, and comfort you in your moments of defeat.

Have any lessons you would like to share from your previous experiences? Feel free to chime in!


Jim Murdoch said...

My first thought is: Why reinvent the wheel? There are plenty of existing groups - do we really need another? I've been a member of Zoetrope for years. I posted quite a few stories at the start, nowadays just the odd poem if I've the time which I've not had in months but the site's not going anywhere.

My main objection to these sites is that most of the feedback I've had has been quite superficial compared to the work I've put into the critiques I've submitted and that ticks me off a bit.

If you set up a new group you'd end up as the group administrator and that brings a lot of additional work you might not have expected. My wife is involved with such a site (non-writing) and it takes up maybe an hour of her time every day. She's not working and she find it a burden.

You'd also have to consider what sort of platform you were going to use (a blog I would imagine to be the easiest) and then it's how to attract - and keep - participants.

Check out Zoetrope. It's not perfect - what is? - but it's been established for a long time now and has good support and a large membership.

Unknown said...

Isn't that part of the problem with sites like that, though, Jim? You aren't going to get much of a community feel to it due to the nature of the beast.

I suppose I could just try to join up with another local Writing Group. That might give me what I need. But I must admit that not having to work around meeting times sounds a lot less stressful.

I will check out Zoetrope, though. I had looked into Fanstory, but any site that charges for posting your content for reviews is despicable. Especially when the site attracts people looking for reviews and not necessarily qualified reviewers.

Thanks for your input!

Jena Isle said...

Hello Brady,

That's a good idea. If people you've been in long contact with, who really read your posts and articles , critique your work, it would be more fruitful and supportive, because more or less they "know" you more.

I and a handful of friends have formed a group which we called the Power50 and we made use of google groups. It's not necessarily a writing group though but more of a blogging group. It is fruitful because we do take care of each other in increasing views and readership and in developing our blogs.

Patricia Rockwell said...

I agree with both of you. I tried working with a local group (never an online group) and it seemed too unwieldy. Also, too many different styles of writing. It's hard for me to critique a style I really don't like (not to mention, unfair). What has worked wonderfully for me is finding a local writing buddy. We write in the same genre and we interact online every day. We get together in person a few times a month. Her suggestions have been the BEST I've ever gotten. I hope she feels the same about mine.

American Idiot said...

I have been involved in several critique groups in the past. Though these were in person, here is what I would suggest, even for an online based group.

1.) Make it a page limit, not a word limit. 2,000 words is not very many pages, really.

2.) Make a scheduled date for each person to be "up to bat." Meaning, Your writing would be week 1, then the beginning of week 2 is when the critiques are due back. Week 2 would be another writer, then on week 3, the critiques for that writer would be due.

The reason for that is it gives a week for people to really get into the 1 persons story and give real, meaningful feedback. If you give portions for each story all at once you will basically not get anywhere. At least, not anywhere with real meaning.

3.) I would use a forum over an email list. That way each story can have it's own "section" on the forum for people to add feedback as they finish up if they can't all make it back on one day, and it is much more organized.

Also, if you want a real critique group, you need to make sure you let everyone know ahead of time, check their egos at the door, have some thick skin, cause honesty can be a pain sometimes, but it's the best way to improve your writing.

Just my opinions.

Jena Isle said...


You could also participate in the NANOWRIMO. I guess Patricia has already enlisted. The more, the merrier.