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 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.