Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Critical Connections

We have often talked about the process of critique groups and their great value. But it stands out much more clearly for me when I am physically a long distance from my New Jersey SCBWI group in the winter and I am still connected by internet.

When I receive and read a colleague's work via email and comment on it in solitude I am still involved in the process. As I applaud the writer on the manuscript and note suggestions for possible changes I am hearing in my mind other members of the group making their comments too. And, I wonder, what would this person say about the plot or that one about the characters? Do they say ratchet up the tension or bring it down? Show these two characters as being much closer so it is believable that they will act for each other, or do they say, delete this guy? I can hear their voices discussing the pros and cons.

Receiving critiques on my manuscripts works well too. Every critique doesn't arrive on the same day so I have time to mull over the comments before seeing others. It's interesting to read each critique as it comes in over "the wire" and observe the similarities and differences of the comments. One of the fascinating aspects is the individual suggestions that the members make for improvements in the story - so valuable coming from different perspectives and choice of language and approach - unique word possibilities, plot twists or character enhancements - seeing these comments starkly black on white with no conversation is often very helpful.

Nothing, however, takes the place of being there - whether being in the mix of offering suggestions to other writers or receiving them yourself or enjoying the comaraderie of the bon mots and jokes that are interspersed in the commentary.

Critique groups are critical connections for writers and many of us find them invaluable. Since most groups work in similar but certainly in different ways too, what critical connections does your group offer you?And here is the rest of it.


  1. Here's something I keep forgetting to mention: if someone writes an email critique, should it be sent to everyone in the group instead of just the author? That way, the critique is shared in a cyberspace "meeting."

    Anyone else in favor of this?

  2. I think Gale poses a good question -- and not just for Eileen's situation.

    I know there have been times where I have sent or received a post-meeting email following up on our discussion. Thoughts occur or are clarified and the critiques has evolved.

    In that case, I've always sent or received a solo email, but who knows what helpful comments might come from other members if they are included in an email chain?

  3. I'm sure you miss seeing your critique partners, but I have found an online critique group to be a great experience. It fits busy schedules and allows meeting with people who are long distance. The group I'm in does send critiques for all to see. Everyone stays in the loop and benefits that way. My online critique group rocks!

    Linda A.

  4. I always learn from critiques -- of my own work, and others. I think sharing the e-mailed critique with the whole group is a good idea.

  5. Before belonging to our critique group, I belonged to a wonderful online critique group. The group policy asked that you write your own critique before looking at the critiques of others. I found that important to keep the critiques from becoming "groupthink". But after we had written our own critique, we got to have the type of conversations we would have at an in person meeting. This worked great!

  6. I've wondered about sharing critiques with everyone too, Gale. Because I learn so much from everyone else's critiques of other people's work. When we're in session I can always tell when one of us has hit on an important point, like flipping chapters or fixing an inconsistent POV, because the group reacts as a whole, even if silently. It's as if there's a silent chime that rungs through the group.

  7. Gale - That's a great idea to email the entire group on an email critique, so the system is working as a group

    Judy - I also agree that it helps to see comments from all members of the group, since each writer brings different and pertinent thoughts to the discussion

    Linda A - Thanks for mentioning your on line email critique group experinces - so all the writers stay in the loop

    Julie - the sharing is so important

    Brianna - Absolutely, the writer should do his/her own critique first so everyone can see the specific perspective of each suggestion, which is the value of a group critique

    Ariel - That's right - if most of the critiquers hit the same point, it might be something the author might seriously consider