This is Robbie.
He looks like he knows what he’s on about, but even though he turns up every week, not much of what he says has been much use to our group.
Then again, nothing he’s said has done any harm, unlike some people in some groups I’ve gone to.
I’m part of a kick-arse writing critique group. I understand this is like discovering gold in your back yard. So I thought I’d share the steps I had to take to get this to happen.
I looked on the internet, found many writing groups close by, and not so close by. I made some phone calls, trying to ascertain whether they’d be a good fit for me. I went along to some, and took some writing along with me, hoping to have it critiqued in a way that would help me improve it. Mostly it didn’t. I tried each group twice, then if it hadn’t helped, I didn’t go back.
Eventually I found a group with some people I thought might just be strange enough to help me achieve my goals, so I joined. I went along for a while, submitted writing for critique, both in person and by email. Much of the critique I received was of no use, and a waste of my time. But this is the nature of most critique groups, and comes with the territory. However, if too many people in a group are saying things just to talk, there isn’t time to get the feedback we need from those who have something valid and helpful to say. Who cares what the critiquer’s personal views on the subjects we write about are? It’s not important. Who cares whether the critiquer once wrote a story on that subject, and nobody liked it? It’s not important. Who cares what the critiquer says when they’re only saying it to let you know how knowledgeable they think they are on a certain subject? If it doesn’t help make your story or your writing better, it doesn’t matter, and wastes your time.
However, some people in that group were wonderful. There were several people who gave intelligent, useful critique which could be used to improve my writing. And a couple of them were serious about writing, and had the time to attend another group. So I stole them.
I started my own group. How?
I found a Great Writing Group article online.
Apart from being a great insight into those involved, it works like a How To for anyone who wants to start a group that works. I wrote down my own thoughts about what it would take to get a worthwhile critique group happening, focusing on the fact that only SERIOUS writers would benefit from it, as we would be giving strong, robust critique that might make a writer cry, rather than handing out encouragement for writing that was clearly not up to scratch.
I emailed this, along with the link to the wonderful article above, to the very few people I knew who I was pretty sure would be able to handle strong critique, bother to actually use it to improve their writing, and also be able to dish it out as well as they could take it.
We meet weekly. Those who are less serious don’t keep coming, because those of us who are serious are annoyingly so. Except the cat. He’s not serious at all. Never writes. Never critiques. Just looks down his glasses at us like we should be doing better. Meeting weekly is great. It keeps us at it. Nobody wants to bring cruddy pages that will be savaged to death. The motivation is there to bring our best to the table, to outdo each other, and to help each other to outdo ourselves so we have somewhere higher to aim.
And that old thing they say, “If you want to learn something, teach it.” That works. By working together to find what’s wrong and what’s right with each piece, we are teaching as well as learning. Everyone who keeps bringing pages is getting better.
The only thing we do differently now is to email our pages to each other a couple of days before we bring them along. That way the first read is a quiet read by ourselves, and we have a better feel for the piece when it’s read out at the meeting.
We continue to occasionally invite someone new to the group. Someone we think will be great. Sometimes we’re right. The ones we’re wrong about don’t maintain their interest.
If you can’t find local people to start a group, you’re either living many miles from town or you’re not trying hard enough. Internet dating sites even work. Put up a profile with photos of yourself so they know you’re a real person. And write it well enough that they know you can write. Explain you’re looking for writers, not romance. Search male or female, any age, with writing as a keyword. Sort by location. You can tell which ones can write by reading their profiles. Invite them to try your group. Send them the Serious Email and the link to the Great Article. Those that actually get serious enough to come along, then come back every week they can, will be good.
Except for the cat. Then again, I think he’s improving…