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Monday, December 29, 2014

Collecting Criticism: Writing Groups vs Critique Partners

This was originally posted on J.D. Horn's blog as part of The Paper Magician blog tour.


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Writing groups aren’t for everyone.

What? BLASPHEMY!

But hear me out.

When I say writing groups aren’t for everyone, I don’t mean that some writers don’t need criticism. Every writer needs criticism. Rowling and Brown and Martin and Patterson all need a second, third, and/or fourth pair of eyes on their work. But over the years I’ve noticed two models for critique: the writing group model and the critique-partners model. I personally started out with the first and have moved to the second with grand success.


So which model is right for you? Allow me to deconstruct them:

The Writing Group

The Writing Group is a very sociable setting, great for making friends and sharing cookies and just generally being loud. It’s like an in-depth book club.

Pros
  • Getting to hear group discussion on your work as though spying on a book club.
  • Acquiring a more social aspect to writing, which can be very isolating work.
  • Eliminating a lot of wait time. Everyone reads your manuscript at the same time and gives you feedback at the same time, so there are no gaps between critiques.
  • Real-time feedback. If you have a question, you can ask it and get an answer right away. No waiting on emails.
  • Keeping structure. At least, a writing group should have ground rules. Otherwise it’s chaos.


Cons
  • Disappearing into the crowd. If you tend toward introversion, it’s easy to get your voice swallowed up.
  • Defensive authors. A writer who won’t take criticism and defends their every word makes for an awkward meeting.
  • Lazy readers. Sometimes group members don’t stay on the ball, and you end up with only a portion of the feedback you were hoping for.
  • Possible embarrassment. Not everyone is tactful in a writing group. I once sat in on a writing group where a guy actually printed out a speech about why another member’s writing was terrible. Made her cry. It was awkward.
  • Scheduling problems. Finding fellow writers who can all meet at the same time and the same place can be a headache, especially if your group is online and you have to deal with time zones.


Critique Partners

Critique partners are fantastic if you don’t have fellow writers in your area. A few of mine I met online; others are friends from previous writing groups or from high school/college. It’s a great way to get feedback without changing out of your pajamas.

Pros
  • Having a wider range of people critiquing your work (since they don’t have to be local).
  • Receiving all your critiques pre-written for you. No note-taking; it’s all in the document. This also makes organizing the criticism a lot easier.
  • No scheduling required.
  • Picking and choosing your readers is a lot easier. If you use a critique partner you end up not liking, it’s simple to cut them out of the loop and use someone else; in a writing-group setting, if you don’t like someone’s critiques, you either have to deal with it or leave the group as a whole


Cons
  • No community desserts.
  • There’s a lot more wait time. Some critique partners are really quick to get back to you, others aren’t. And sometimes you’re not sure if that email actually went through…
  • No group discussion. Someone may point out a problem, and if you want a second opinion on that opinion, you have more emails to write and more waiting to do.
  • You have to actually find each critique partner. Joining a writing group is a two-step process: find the group and join it. Finding the same number of readers you’d have in a writing group to use as critique partners is much more time-consuming because you have to seek out each one personally.
  • It’s less sociable.



So how do I do it?

I have about fifteen critique partners, which I suppose I could split into two “writing groups”—my alpha readers (fellow writers) and my beta readers (non-writing readers). My rough draft goes out to the first set of readers, and I make changes to my manuscript based on their comments as they filter through my email. That modified manuscript then goes out to my beta readers, and I incorporate their changes as well.

If you go the route of the critique-partners-model, I highly recommend using several of them. That way you get the varied feedback of a writing group, and if someone is too busy to read your stuff, you have others to fall back on.

Side note: If you’re one of those writers who won’t share your work for fear of others stealing it, you can always do a poor man’s copyright and email the manuscript to yourself. Don’t open the package when it arrives. The post office stamp will more or less keep your creative works yours.




1 comment:

  1. I currently have both--though I think my writing group is pretty structured--we have a standing date every two weeks, and as four of the five of us are teachers, we're pretty good about staying on top of feedback. For me, since I have three kids and a day job, having a writing group gives me the structure (deadlines!) I need to stay on top of writing. But I also know lots of writers who prefer feedback at the end of a draft, rather than as they write.

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