Friday, February 25, 2011

Critique Groups May Work! However--!

They can work and they might work very well provided any and all axes are left outside as it were.
In other words, how do we know that the opinions that are given are constructive and are not embued with any negativity?

Can we be absolutely positive that those offering criticim are able to be fair? What if they aren't able to be and they don't realize it? Maybe they just don't like stories about vampires or even if they are sworn to adore every single story about vampires (or whatever it is you write about) they just don't like our story. Or even worse, they don't like us?

I believe in the 'ideal reader' that Stephen King speaks of. That is absolutely beyond doubt. However frankly I don't like critique groups. I have no problem however with workshops that offer critiques. Face to face workshops where we can discuss things one to one. That's fine as are critique groups that are also face to face.

I joined a wonderful workshop ten years ago for a time. I hadn't written since I was a teenager and that workshop was the very best thing that could have happened to me. I was enouraged, inspired and critiqued too. I learned in a constructive atmosphere and I learned happily. I don't belong to any now because at the stage I'm in now I feel it would paralyze my writing. My ideas would die before they ever saw the light of day.

But here's another point of mine, as for critiquing in general, I don't like showing a story or a novel (especially an unfinished-barely begun novel) for scrutiny. It's like having a ten day old fetus adjudged for its viablity. IT'S TOO SOON, PEOPLE! The little embryonic bunch of words will not go full-term. It will die before it is drawn forth, before it is allowed to gasp its first breath...!

Okay, I'm getting carried away, sorry.

Answering this question on a purely subjective level: no. Critique groups do not work for me, I am not comfortable. I have to have my story grow and become whatever it becomes.

Possibly the reason for this is also that I am a 'seat of the panster.' I know my characters, have a basic idea of the plot and go for it. I get zero draft done first, then a proper first draft. Now since the zero draft is just that: ZERO, how can I ask anyone what they think of it? I can bounce an idea off someone, that's different but for critiquing, not for me I'm afraid.

Having said that what works for me may not work for another. No one ever lost anything by trying a critique group to see if they liked it, if they could benefit from it.

Nothing in life is certain nor is anything written in stone. With regard to writing, there are no rules. Writing is a great journey and if you find a vessel to sail the stormy seas in that is right for you, climb aboard, set your sail and seek your dream! 


  1. Carol, I agree there's no point in sending a zero draft, or even a first draft to a critique group. I think that was a huge mistake I made with my first manuscript (the one I haven't looked at in over month because I'm afraid I'll snap and burn it).

    I do think , that after you've self edited once or twice, that sending it to a critique group or even to a few beta readers IS a good idea. If anything, to catch those lost minute grammar mistakes still floating around.

    Depending how long you've been writing, those who are experienced can probably get by just fine without it. However, I would recommend new writes make use of a crit group. Just, don't do what I did and take every single opinion to heart.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly, Carole. My stories often go through several drafts until I'm satisfied with them. And, until I'm satisfied with them, why let them be critiqued?

    Even more, I often compare critiquing to reviewing. Sometimes I come across a movie review that is inciteful, but oftentimes, they're like the ones from Roger Ebert. Sure, Ebert's been around for decades but I think the guy looks for Shakespeare and Hitchcock in every movie, which you're not going to ever get from the likes of Uwe Boll or Adam Sandler.

    Now, as J.D. said, I might recommend fresh-from-the-cradle writers use critique groups, if only to see if they can survive the often rough-and-tumble world of writing (and to learn that there will always be a-holes no matter how good you are).

  3. Right on, Carole, especially about posting for critique something the writer hasn't had the time to work out first. But then there's the opposite side a new writer, like myself, gets herself into: writing a whole book on a premise that has to be changed. I've tried being secretive until I got something done, only to find out the premise wasn't going to fly, doomed like:

    "A succubus trapped in a boxcar of Amish sex slave rage demon virgins heading for a land fill in Utah."

    No that isn't the name of my new book.

  4. Actually, Sharon, I thought that was the title of C.J.'s next novella.

  5. I don't participate in critique groups, but I'm sure they are very valuable for many writers. Just not my thing, I guess.

  6. Totally agree with you, J.D.
    At the stage i'm in now, no--my philosophy is if it's an anthology, they take it or they don't. And for the novel, my publisher lets me know really fast what she thinks!

    But i do agree, as general advice, that is the way to go. Although I will say i think face to face encounters are best.


  7. Gregory, so true. I know. Newbies should definitely get critiqued. Now i'm not saying I am such a hugely brilliant writer that i don't need a good kick in the pants sometimes because I do. But where I'm working from now i want that kick to be from my publisher!

    I agree about the review element. I think the critique can wind up being a review. Egbert has these Egbert clones on imdb. I want to pull my hair out sometimes! He doesn't and so many don't know how to sit back and enjoy a movie for goodness sakes! Boy are you right!

    Not all films are seeking to impart valuable knowledge to mankind, they're just to be enjoyed.

    Love that!

    Getting back to the writing aspect, yes I never looked at it that way. that's what i think i never liked about it. I have felt my story was reviewed!

    "I didn't like the way the bat flew in through the window..."

    "But it turned into a vampire...!"

    "Can't it walk in or hop in? I'm just not seeing it flying in!"

    exaggeration to make a point but why not!

    Thanks Gregory!

  8. Sharon, good point. But that's idea bouncing! that i think is good and positive.
    I think when we first begin we're so afraid of our ideas being stolen. Nah! relax! it'll cripple you otherwise.

    Bounce those ideas off people. are you in a writer's group of some kind?

    What sort of fiction do you like writing? I know some great groups:
    crimespace ning, horror writers groups.

    If you write horror there's a great group on Facebook. two actually.

    please tell me because bouncing ideas before you really steam ahead is a good idea.

    Like the succubus! maybe a succubus on a bus! hoo hah!

  9. Sure, Julia. We're all different. Whatever works best is what you want to get involved with.

    I mean take J.D. Rowling--i'm sure she didn't go to a critique group. I have a feeling if she had she might have had a lot of questions! i mean perhaps she did, i just don't think she did.

    I do like writers groups though because writing is very isolating. Vamplit and Masters of Horror are the two groups I belong to.

    we get submission information--there are opportunities for critiques if desired and there are people there to just discuss general issues with. They are very supportive.

    that i do like.

  10. I agree, Carole. It depends on the individual. They're not for everyone. I never felt the need for critique support, just general support and kind words such as you receive from the groups you belong to. That is important because we do work alone a great deal. J.K. Rowling had her own vision and followed it flawlessly. Such authors do their thing! But I can see where critique groups are beneficial, and I've tried to give some encouragement in some but my time is limited.

    Support, whatever kind, is good.

  11. Lori, I couldn't agree more.
    Yes, they're not for everyone.
    I just have a feeling that, had Rowling approached a critqiue group they would have given her a lot of feedback about the book being too different, not marketable, etc.
    I just have this cringing feeling that's what might have happened.

    Support is paramount as you say.
    As long as the writer feels comfortable with that support, then that's fine.

    but as you say it doesn't work with everyone!
    thanks so much.