by Rachael Renee Anderson
Probably the brightest thing I did this year was become involved in a critique group. Even though I live in Utah, where there are many other LDS writers, I wanted an online group for its flexibility. Turns out that online groups can be just as effective, if not more so, than meeting once a week with a regular group.
Over time, our group has adapted, tried new things, and now we have a model that works great for us:
1) We've decided to keep our group at 6 members or less. Any more, and it's too big.
2) We utilize each other for help with: plot outlines, writer's block (if we come to a standstill and need a push), and final review. Or any other questions/concerns we need help with.
3) When we've written and revised our ms, we give it to various friends or family (alpha readers) to look over, mainly for plot holes, incongruities, etc. One group member wrote a middle-grade fantasy and had several jr. high school students (his target audience) look it over for him. Then after we receive alpha comments back, we revise yet again before turning it over to our group, which operates as follows:
- We ask one member (whoever is available at the time) to begin reading it. Once they have 4-5 chapters done, they upload it to our group message board before continuing on. This gives the author the chance to revise the chapters before another member of our group looks it over. It's sort of a review, revise, review, revise process. That way, each version gets better and better, resulting in a ms that's ready to be submitted.
- We've decided that 2-3 thorough critiques are the perfect number to request from each other. Editing a full ms takes a lot of time, and with 6 members in our group, it gives us the chance to say "can't do it" if we are particularly busy or don't have the time. In other words, we don't need to critique every ms in our group.
Another note: As you critique, be sure to be completely honest. Most authors can handle criticism, and it won't do any good if you can't be honest (sometimes brutally so) with the manuscripts you read. But be sure to point out the good also. (This is a biggie!) It's easier to only write comments about the problems you encounter, but there's definitely something to the saying, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." After all, the main purpose of a critique group should be to lift, inspire, motivate, and make each other a better writer. That can't happen in a negative setting.
If anyone else participates in a critique group, I'm sure we'd all love to hear some of the things you've learned as well. What works/didn't work for you?