Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ode to a Critique Group

Old Town Writers' Group meets twice a month to critique each other's work (a mix of adult and teen fiction, essays, and novels), celebrate good news, commiserate over struggles, share writing/publishing info, and generally cheer each other on. We also have annual readings and retreats. In celebration of our third annual reading, the members of OTWG have written a guest post about what we've gained from being in a writers' group.

Molly Reid says,
"Old Town Writing Group has pushed me to experiment more, in the ways I’d been wanting to but hadn’t had the guts or impetus yet; there’s something about knowing others are going to read and critique something before you think it’s ‘done’ that takes the pressure off and allows you to just write.

The group also offers something I didn’t really realize I needed: encouragement and support. It makes all the difference when you’re typing away all alone, shaking and swearing when no one can hear, if you know there are people who think you can do it; it’s like having your own little cheering section you can take out and listen to if you need it. I’m not saying I never have self-doubt anymore, but being in a writing group makes it lighter and more bearable – and I know there are people who will listen to me at the next meeting while I bitch about it, which helps."

Kimberly Srock Fields says,
"Pressure to write is what I was looking for from the group, and I got just what I wanted, but what I didn’t expect was that the group would push me to celebrate myself as a writer.
A few months after I joined the group, the subject of “the next reading” came up, and I balked. A reading? I hadn’t submitted anything for publication in years, much less landed a publication. I didn’t feel worthy. I wasn’t really a writer yet. Who would want me to hear me read? But, as the group continued to make its plans for the reading, I couldn’t help but get caught up in their enthusiasm, and, at nearly the last minute, I decided to participate.

So, I read. I read an essay that had never gotten published, despite my efforts, and the crowd loved it. People laughed when I wanted them to and nobody walked out in a huff. Afterward, people I hadn’t met before came to compliment me on my reading. I felt like a rock star. I felt like a writer. And that is definitely something worth celebrating. For that, I’m grateful to my writing group."

Sarah Ryan says,
"In OTWG, I discovered the rare and marvelous thing that all writers strive for: a dedicated audience. My group members cared about what I wrote. They wanted to read it, and they wanted to see it improve. They were generous with praise and criticism. They were interested in my goals, and both realistic and inspiring when it came to my abilities and potentials. We talked about writing habits, publishing, revising, and craft. Because they saw me as a writer, I came to see myself as a writer and began to make the choices that were necessary to carve out significant and productive time for writing in my life."

Carrie Visintainer says,
"When I joined OTWG a few years ago, one of my short stories had just been selected for the Bullhorn's creative writing issue. This was my first acceptance. I was excited (and surprised), and I found myself seeking ways to take my writing to the next level.

My educational background is in science, so I was interested in the expertise and experience that a writing group would provide. OTWG has been this, and much more. Each time I submit my work, I value the feedback of all group members, and I gain inspiration from our discussion. I've been able to fine tune my work, as well as delve into new and exciting projects. In addition, I've learned a lot about the diverse world of publishing. Finally, the camaraderie of the group feels essential. Each member supports me in a way that enables me to keep on keeping on."

Leslie Patterson says,
"Along with The Sorrows of Gin (Cheever), The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Sillitoe) is a title I wish I could have invented. Never mind that both stories were composed before I was born and that both involve characters who excel at sports I revile, I love the way these titles sing and the truths they expose. Sometimes I cheat and make the Sillitoe title mine by thinking The Loneliness of the Long Distance Writer. That is the story I would write.

For me, isolation is part and parcel of the creative experience. I absolutely require quiet time alone for reflection and composition, and often, I relish this solitude. But sometimes the loneliness required for my creative enterprises seems unbearable.

For years, when I primarily wrote essays and short stories without the aid of a writers group, I would get to a point in a piece where I didn’t know if my ideas were interesting or if my writing techniques were good.

When I joined my writers' group, I came to see that the struggles I was experiencing as a writer were far from unique. I was encouraged to try exercises that helped me to create more believable characters and situations as well as more vivid language. Through group deadlines and the example of other writers, I learned to become more disciplined. I even learned how to submit.
Now, as I work on my first novel, the feedback of my writing group has become even more essential. I don’t think I would have the courage to embark on a project that requires such endurance without them, but with their help, I stand a good chance of becoming the gifted long distance writer I’ve always wished to be."

Laura Resau says,
"In addition to giving me great feedback and encouragement, OTWG also helps keep me on track. After I completed the copy-editing for my first published novel, WHAT THE MOON SAW, I started dabbling in little essays and stories, somewhat aimlessly.

At one meeting, a woman in my critique group said, "Hey, whatever happened to that book you were working on—RED GLASS?" The group had seen a few chapters of it months earlier. I told them it was a jumbled mess and I didn't know where it was going and I wasn't sure it was worth continuing. They said they loved the characters and wanted to read more of it. So, I focused on completing RED GLASS, which soon became my second published novel… but without my writing group, it might never have been written!"

Do you have a critique group? How has it helped you?


Jen said...

How fun!!! I love it!!! I do not have a crit group however I am also not that far along! But when I am I can't wait to get together with a great bunch of people!

Jemi Fraser said...

My crit buddies are online - I envy you having each other in "real" life as well :)

Bob McDonnell said...

Critique groups are the best. I am a member of an eight-member group called Broad Horizons. We meet every two weeks, alternating between Fort Collins, (we use the Northern Colorado Writers’ Studio) and coffee shops in Loveland. Group members besides me are Diane Fromme, Marie Schaffner, Marie Burghard, Joe McKeon, Kathleen Donnelly, Heidi Windmiller and Erika Nossokoff.

The strength of our group is the diversity of the members. Not only do we span a few decades in age, our interests are varied too. Members write on everything from a fiction book, non-fiction books including fantasy and adventure, short stories, newspaper features and memoirs.

Every time it is my turn to submit, I come away with a piece that is must stronger and more solid than it was before seven brains evaluated it. The level of trust and openness in our group is also strength.

Bob McDonnell, Writer and Blogger

Patricia Stoltey said...

I've belonged to my critique group, Raintree Writers, since the beginning of 2004. We've had a few members come and go, but we try to keep the group at six members for a good variety of critiquing styles.

Laura Resau said...

It's fun to read these responses!

Jen-- It's never to early to find a critique group.;) I think the key is to find people who share a similar commitment level as you-- and if that means getting together just once a month to eat cake and do fun writing exercises together, so be it!

Patricia-- we've had members come and go, too, which always means some adjusting. It's interesting to see how new dynamics form with new members-- it's often a breath of fresh air!

Bob-- I agree that diversity of writing interests and backgrounds is great. Even though I'm mainly a young adult author, I've really benefited from critiquing literary short stories and essays for adults, for example. And I definitely agree that trust and openness are key!


Laura Resau said...

Can't resist linking to today's wonderful article in Matter Daily about Old Town Writers Group and the upcoming reading:

Fun article!

David A. Bedford said...

Can young adult books be literary?

Laura Resau said...

Yes indeed, David! And one interesting thing I've learned about the readership of literary young adult novels is that many of the most enthusiastic readers are adults. About half my reader mail comes from adults-- and not just teachers, librarians, and parents.

Maggie Goins said...

I love your post, Kerrie! My critique group is truthful, helpful, and faithful, not to mention kind and supportive. Stop by my blog and read my recent post about them:)

Living in the Write Mind

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