Sunday, October 30, 2011

Critique Groups: Serious Business or Good Fun?

I have been plotting new stories.

This writing business overlaps itself and could make the sanest person’s eye twitch. While I’m working on one story, I need to have one or two others under consideration on an editor’s desk. Also while working on a story, I get edits and author alterations for a previous one.

By the time a book is actually in stores, I’ve usually written one or two more, plotted a couple, and worked on cover art information. So, when I have a book on the shelves, I have to go back and remind myself what it’s about to promote it. LOL Or even read it if I’m asked to join a reader’s group for discussion! Don’t laugh.

My friend Bernadette has been my critique partner practically ever since we joined RWA the same year in—confession time—1988. She remembers everything about every story anyone writes and can keep it all straight. I confess, her brain scares me. But then I scare myself. I read or critique for another person and forget what the story was about within a couple of weeks. I justify that by saying I simply have too much on my mind to retain it all. Don’t blow my comfort level by disagreeing.

I am a writer who appreciates a good critique group or partner. I've been in a critique group for all the years that I've been published—and most of those in a group that meets every single week. We go through stages: Levels of productivity, trying out techniques that work, members moving away and, of course, our process of screening a replacement.

It's serious business, this critique group thing. You don't invite anyone who isn't compatible. You have to respect the people who are going to offer comments on your work. For me it has nothing to do with published or unpublished; it has to do with work ethic, knowledge or willingness to learn, and enthusiasm. And another creative brain ain't nothin' to turn up your nose at.

I love my other brains. They are priceless during the brainstorming process—or when I'm stuck. Sure, I come up with the ideas on my own, and I put the pieces together and make all the decisions and write the story, but I only have one brain and one life experience. Getting feedback from other writers who have different perspectives and who understand the process of story writing makes their contributions invaluable.

Some writers don't like anyone else meddling in their stories—some find it changes their story too much. I go into the process with chosen elements I won't budge on, so the possibility of taking my story a wrong direction isn't a problem for me. I'm flexible about everything else because new perspectives keep me fresh.

If a writer in my group makes a suggestion for someone’s story that isn't considered, it's not because the thought was a bad idea; it's just because that idea didn't work for that particular story. There are no wrong ideas. We all understand that and nobody gets her nose out of joint.

We often use Pam McCutcheon’s brainstorming cards because they give us themes and traits for a starting point.

These people are my best friends. We share other things besides writing, and when someone moves away, we stay in touch. But we always remember why we are friends. We’re together because we’re writers, and our goal is to help each other write the best stories possible.

Thank you to the clever writers who have critiqued with me over the years! If you’re one of them, shout out a HOWDY!


  1. Howdy!!! I miss you gals!!! What a huge difference with my writing from before I was in your group (in that third pic) to after! The words "thank you" will never be enough.

  2. There's Andrea! Sorry I missed this post. I love that picture of you and Pam ;)