Last month I wrote about the benefits and challenges that I’ve found in being part of a writing critique group. Today I’m going to look at some of the more practical aspects.
Are you in the right group?
I guess you’re not going to know if the group is right for you until you join. I’ve only ever been in one writing group and, I have to admit, I wasn’t sure whether it was the right group for me when I first joined. I was writing contemporary YA. The other members of my group were writing SF, fantasy, historical and ‘women’s’ fiction. I felt a bit out of place. But I stayed, coming to realise that having such a diverse group of writers was a strength rather than a drawback. The people in my group are all great writers in their own way – they all bring different skills to the table. I came to see that good writing is good writing, no matter what the genre, and that good writers who really understand the craft (as the writers in my group do) can see the strengths and the faults in a manuscript no matter the theme or setting.
So don’t worry about genre. So long as you all get along and the feedback is valuable and generous, you’re in a good group. If people become overly critical without balancing that with pointing out strengths, maybe it’s time to say goodbye. Also, some people are just not good at hearing criticism. That’s their loss. Offer your observations as diplomatically as possible and don’t be too concerned if they don’t want to take what you’re saying on board.
Where to meet?
When I first joined the group we met at a restaurant at the top of a pub in the city. It was central and relatively quiet. But then the food got more expensive, the menu more limited and the noise level a bit too high, so we wanted a change. We tried a hotel lobby (too busy) and then upstairs at a city café for probably six months, but one day it was closed without warning and so we had to find somewhere else on the fly. We wandered into the Pancake Parlour and they let us use a quiet section of the restaurant that was closed to the public. So now we meet there. The Pancake Parlour. I know! Sometimes it feels like we should be there for a 12-year-old’s birthday party.
Wherever you meet, it really has to be central (or easy to get to) for everyone, quiet and conducive to spreading out pages if you need to. Some groups use members’ homes. Public places are good because no one has to ‘host’, plus you never have to kick people out when you start to get tired!
When to meet?
My group meets on the last Saturday of the every month. We used to meet for lunch but now it’s become afternoon tea (2.30pm). This suits us because it allows to come together for a few hours and still be able to go out at night if want.
Some groups meet on a weeknight. Whether this works or not would depend on the lifestyles of your members. Maybe you have to work late sometimes or have to ferry kids around to afterschool activities. Maybe you can’t leave the house until your partner gets home to watch the kids, so this might cause you to pull out at the last minute.
Some groups want to meet, discuss the work and then have a few drinks. Being somewhere close to public transport is great if this is the case! My group don’t drink when we meet as a rule, but always get together at Christmastime for celebratory drink and sometimes get together at other times during the year to celebrate milestones – a member’s book launch or a birthday party, for example.
How many members?
I’ve been in the same writing group for about six years and the membership has changed over that time. Four or five members have left – two because they moved out of Melbourne and two because they wanted to take a break from writing. Four of us have remained constant since I first joined and we’ve had another join in the past year or so. So we’re pretty much a group of six. Not everyone makes it every month, but there’s usually at least four of us. If it’s any fewer we might cancel for that month. If only two of us can make it, it’s not worthwhile (or fair) for the person being critique. If that’s the case, we roll the submission over to the following month.
If you’re not in a writing group, I highly recommend joining one. It’ll do wonders for your writing (even if all it does is spur you on to get work finished!) and you’ll make some great writer friends too.