Critique Groups - The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
What do people expect when they join a writing group?
The list of anticipated benefits includes friendship, constructive criticism, support, encouragement, help with editing, inspiration, and advice on everything from plotting to possible markets. These expectations may or may not be met.
The members of any group will come from diverse backgrounds, and will have diverse skills, knowledge and personalities. They may not be able to give you the kind of help you're hoping for. You need to leave a meeting feeling that you have benefited from the experience. If you often go home feeling discouraged and seriously thinking about giving up writing, then this is not the group for you.
Certainly not everyone comes away from a group meeting feeling happy with the way things have turned out. It is not necessarily anyone's fault that this is so. Quite simply, different people have different needs.
You could try splitting the group into two. This can be done in two ways:
Beginning writers need a supportive, friendly atmosphere to hone their skills and learn to give and receive constructive criticism. They often need help with the basics: dialogue, plotting, motivation, and show-don't-tell. They blossom in an atmosphere of caring and sharing.
More experienced writers may have just one or two weak areas on which they need to work. Often, they are well into a novel, or may be editing it ready to send to a publisher. Some may have been published before, perhaps in other genres. they don't want (or can't afford) to spend time constantly going back over the basics. They want to work on their own novels, not short exercises and drills.
Some DOs and DON'Ts for Critique Groups:
DON'T leave all the work up to one person. Not only is it unfair, it can result in the eventual disintegration of the group.
Take a close look: is your group coordinator becoming burnt out from doing all the encouraging, all the encouraging, all the preparation and bringing along all the ideas?
Consider these options:
Marg McAlister has published magazine articles, short stories, books for children, ezines, promotional material, sales letters and web content. She has written 5 distance education courses on writing, and her online help for writers is popular all over the world. Sign up for her regular writers' tipsheet at http://www.writing4success.com/
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