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.


Writing groups aren’t for everyone.


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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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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