Saturday, July 30, 2011

Crit Group or Novel Pod—Patience Level May Decide

I attended a critique group this week which I had been a part of for a couple of years. I adore the participants.  But after attending this week, I remembered how stressed out I used to get as we went around the table.

The group is fairly large, twelve attendees on a quiet night. Since I last atteneded, they have implemented line numbers on the submissions so they can refer to a specific part of the piece.

I was wanting to pull my hair out.
I love these people, but I can't take fifteen people discussing issues which are editorial in nature.

Am I nutz, or is a critique a little higher level than an edit? I say, make your nits on the hard copy you give to the submitter, and share how you felt about the piece. What I think is valuable in the face-to-face is expressing how you found the piece.

 - Did the character speak to you?
 - Could you feel in the setting?
 - Could you set aside your disbelief?
 - Did the language flow so that it was comfortable to read?
 - Did you laugh, cry, become sensually intrigued?

The critique process pays big dividends. I still want to participate, but I'm afraid my patience level will force me to stick to the novel pod, where I am constantly engaged. I can't sit and listen.

Drives my beezonkers.

It's me folks. . . not you.

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Working on novel number nineteen!


  1. That is a huge critique group!

  2. A critique group is only as good as the participants’ understandings of the craft of writing. It’s easy to find a missing comma or a misspelling. It’s another story altogether to understand the art form and speak to it intelligently and helpfully.

    If I don’t speak or write Russian, how can I critique the language? “Has a beat but you can’t dance to it.” Ignorance simply begets what you got in your recent experience.

    To be fair to the group, many different skill levels are represented, yet all have the passion for writing and that, above all, is our salvation. Some are developing a command of English as a second language (they write surprisingly well because their native tongues and experiences come from radically different perspectives and express thoughts in fresh ways Westerners rarely hear.) Others have been slogging away for years, making baby steps of progress. Others are taking classes, learning the ABC’s of what a gerund is or an adjectival phrase, thrilled to learn there are rules of good exposition. Notice I didn’t say “rules of good writing.” I love what is often brought to the table, but it could be far more.

    Those of us that have an inkling of writing’s finer details have a responsibility to call attention to those details, show how they make good writing more meaningful and why we struggle so to chase those details in our work.

    Okay, sounds good. Now how does one do this? First, when your piece is about to be reviewed, ask a few of the questions, like the ones you’ve put forth, and insist on no line edits. Thank them for their time and trouble but ask more of them.

    Second, set the example yourself of how you feel critiques are valuable. Speak to character development, believability, the music of the prose, the higher issues as you suggest. These comments should be elegant and actionable.

    Finally, write damn well. Don’t turn in three-year-old schlock. Show your best, writing that shows you’re up to the criticism you lay out.

    I find novel pods share the same limitations, more so, because one is committed to very few and very narrow perspectives on a regular basis, again restrained by the participants’ skill levels. A critique group could prove more valuable if those that attended understood how to give excellent, succinct and heart-of-the-matter evaluations. I’m working on the “succinct” part.

    Patience is an essential ingredient in any learning endeavor. We don’t, however, have to endure lessons for which we have little use; ask for more.

  3. Like you, I belong to a writers group that meets once a month. We are encouraged to bring material for critique, but no more than three pages. That alone, makes it hard for me - I'm writing a book, not a short story.

    After every meeting I wonder if the group is right for me. But I keep returning. Maybe for the networking. Maybe because they're all writers and get it. But I do struggle with giving critique (I'm a slow processor). I think your questions will help me in future meetings. I'll have to write them down! Thanks!

    Oh - and wow! Number 19? That's awesome!

  4. You have a fabulous blog! I want to award you the Best of Sci/Fi Blog Award for all the hard work you do!

    Go to and pick up your award.

  5. A NOVEL POD is a critique group, with a small number of participants. I suggest more than four is a group. The fewer the participants, the more intensely the group can delve into every submission. The pod implies the writers have a more similar background and purpose, write with a similar style and in the same genre. But that isn't written in scripture. ;O)

  6. Stacy--Consider a partnership with one or more fellow writers who share similar goals. I've found off-line critiquing/editing very effective with other writers. We swap a chapter at a time via email, and that enables us to go as quickly as our schedules allow. It reduces the breadth of feedback, but escalates the amount of material you get feedback on.--RMW