8 Smart Questions to Ask as You Start, Alter, or Join a Critique Group

The process of critiquing other writers’ work thoughtfully and intelligently will help you strengthen your own writing.— Melissa Donovan

by ClkerFreeVectorImages
by ClkerFreeVectorImages

Critiquing is valuable to success…unless you find yourself in the wrong critique group.

Use the following questionnaire to:

  • Revamp your floundering group
  • Start a new compatible group
  • Join the right existing group
by ClkerFreeVectorImages
by ClkerFreeVectorImages

 

Questionnaire

 

  1. What help do you need? Be honest. Don’t leave off tasks because you want to avoid criticism of your weak areas. Possible tasks are:
  • Punctuation, spelling, & grammar
  • Word choices
  • Paragraph & sentence construction
  • Plot & characters
  • Scene goals & hooks
  • Conflict & believability
  • Prayer
  1. What’s the feedback style you’re willing to give and receive? Some are:
  • Frank honesty (“This paragraph is too melodramatic.”)
  • Soft honesty (“You may want to tone down this paragraph.”)
  • High on encouragement; low on criticism (“I like this word choice.”)
  • Combination (“This paragraph is too melodramatic. You may want to tone down what Mark says to Melanie. I like your use of ‘grandiose’ in the last sentence.”)
by nile
by nile
  1. How much time are you willing to spend critiquing a chapter? If group members commit to more than the first two tasks under Question 1, you may spend two or more hours on a chapter. Also, the levels of writing ability will determine how much needs to be addressed.

 

 

 

  1. How many critique partners can you realistically handle? And:

°  progress your own manuscript

°  perform an effective job on others’ chapters

In a 6-member group, depending on tasks chosen in Question 1, you could spend 6 to 18 hours a week critiquing.

In a past large group, some marked punctuation, spelling, and grammar only, while others performed in-depth critiques. Another member and I split off to form a 2-member group of frank, in-depth partners. That worked better for us.

Maybe it’s time to break your large critique group into smaller groups.

  1. by PublicDomainPictures
    by PublicDomainPictures
    What rules do you expect so the group functions fairly? No one wants to feel imposed upon by members not pulling their load. Rules might address:
  • Number of critiques performed to earn a critique
  • Expected tasks to be performed (Question 1)
  • Style of feedback (Question 4)
  1. What mix of writing-skill levels do you desire? Writers who:
  • are writing their first book
  • have completed a novel
  • have submitted for publication at least two books
  • have one or more published novels

Writers are readers, so all levels can add value.

  1. What craft development do you expect from members? A group may fail if some are learning the writing craft and others aren’t.

Activities members could choose from:

  • Attend writing workshops
  • Join local and online writing groups
  • Read craft books from a recommended list
  • Take online courses
  • Subscribe to writing blogs

 

by appraisal2day
by appraisal2day

8.  How important is it to critique in your genre?

In one group, a woman wrote Regency. Not having read Regency, I was ill-equipped to critique her work in some aspects. In another group, we had to, at least, read Amish novels. I read them and could give all-around feedback.

 

Join the right critique group, revamp a failing one, or start an effective one. Click to tweet.

What’s most important to you in a critique group?

 

Sometimes You Need a Rejection

“ I take rejection as someone blowing a bugle in my ear to wake me up and get going, rather than retreat.” — Sylvester Stallone 

 

Image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Through my writing, I’ve learned an important truth. I’ve gone to conferences, attended workshops, read books on the craft, been critiqued, and written, written, written. I’ve grown in my writing ability. By great strides. But knowing this sometimes tempts me to think I’ve arrived at a place to relax.

Image courtesy of nongpimmy at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of nongpimmy at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Often believing we’ve arrived is driven by our growth, not by where excellence lies. Click to tweet. 

I think this is true for most of us. Sometimes we need a rejection to push us to the next level.

 

 

 

Rejections We Might Need

 

Rejection 1

 

  • The growth. We’ve gone over and over our scene. We’ve thought of the kinds of problems our critique partner has previously dinged us for. We know it’s perfect. Perhaps we don’t need a critique partner anymore.
  • The rejection. We receive a critique, bloody with red ink.
  • The Next Level. We realize critique partners are a permanent need. When we’re immersed in our scene, even after we’ve let it sit, we can’t see problems only other readers can. Like the turn of a phrase that makes sense to us, but confuses a reader.

 

Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Rejection 2

 

  • The growth. Our writing improved after each of two rejected novels. Our third book is published.
  • The rejection. Our fourth book can’t find a home. In the rejection letters, kind editors give us suggestions to improve the work.
  • The Next Level. The rejection teaches us one published book doesn’t mean we’ve arrived in our writing ability. We must continue to hone the craft.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Rejection 3 

 

  • The growth. We’ve written a publishable story. We’ve done everything craft books, workshop teachers, and paid editors suggested to make it the best story. We pitch it to editors at conferences. Several like our idea and request a proposal.
  • The rejection. We receive kind rejections telling us the editors liked the story but had no place for it. They even take the time to encourage us about our story.
  • The Next Level. We realize this is the business. The rejection isn’t a reflection on us as a writer. We refuse to be discouraged. We move on to the next project. But we tuck the book away.
    • Times may change, and an editor might remember our book and request it again.
    • Or we sell several similar books and garner a following of readers ready for more of our books. We self-publish that book.
    • Or, with our growing reader base, a publisher might be eager now to look at it. This happened to John Grisham. A Time to Kill was Grisham’s first book. Many publishers rejected it. Then a publisher gave it a 5000-copy printing. But after his next books became bestsellers, A Time to Kill was republished twice and made into a movie. 

 

  • Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
    Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We learn to keep our options open rather than quitting. For me, I trust in God’s will and timing.

When has a rejection pushed you forward to the next level?

How to Find People Who’ll Sharpen You and Your Creative Work

“Just as iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other.” —Proverbs 27:17 NIV

ironwedge

You’re tired of hearing what you want to hear and going nowhere. Deep down you know your creative work could improve.

Like a cotton ball can’t hone a sharp edge on cotton candy, fawning and insincere people can’t help you become a solid crafter in your creative field.

After many years, I’m becoming a sharp iron wedge with WRITER chiseled into my face. I’m grateful to those who’ve sharpened me. Here are the activities that honed me the most.

1.   Join Groups

Image courtesy of criminalatt at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of criminalatt at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In groups, you’ll meet experienced people who can sharpen you. These iron wedges frequent  groups to fine-tune their own chiseling edges and to mentor and teach others. So, join:

  • National and local groups
  • Conferences
  • Email or online discussion boards
  • Accountability groups
  • Character-building groups
Image courtesy of cbenjasuwan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of cbenjasuwan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tips:

  • Look for groups that:
    • Share successes
    • Promote one another
    • Share information and opportunities
    • Encourage each other
  • Seek participants in these groups who care enough to sharpen people with truth, excellence, and gentle firmness. Be ready to reciprocate.
  • Join groups outside your creative field. A friend writes stories with hockey settings. She took an 8-week hockey course.
  • Join groups that sharpen your character. For me, studies delving into Biblical truths and calling me to live up to God’s commands sharpen me.
  • Participate often in your selected groups and develop friendships.

2.   Seek People Who Will Sharpener You personally.

  • Critique partner
  • Mentor
  • Coach
  • Contest judges
  • Professionals

Tips:

  • Look for partners who care enough to sharpen you with truth, excellence, and gentle firmness.
  • Give your best in critique groups. Then invite one or two to team with you. Those who:
    Image courtesy of anekoho at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
    Image courtesy of anekoho at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
    • give their best back;
    • want you to succeed as much as you do;
    • you want them to succeed as much as they do;
    • give and receive constructive criticism well; and
    • are committed to the critiquing process.

  • Listen to contest judges or editors. If you disagree with them:
    • kill your pride and learn from them;
    • realize something hit the judges or editors the wrong way, and they made the effort to comment;
    • look deeper and be sharpened; and
    • relax—it’s you who decides how you’ll use their help.
  • Seek accountability partners who don’t let you off the hook. God is my first-line accountability partner, but my friends in Forward March help me also. Look for new partners who’ll:
    • review your goals and progress;
    • push you to move forward;
    • encourage you to dust yourself off and start fresh when you’ve had a bad week.

Being sharpened can be painful. But ultimately, chiseling through hard work successfully and sharpening others’ creative edges is a great reward.

Tweetable

  • Look for people who care enough to sharpen you with truth, excellence, and gentle firmness.
    click to tweet

What did the person who sharpened you most do for you?