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Writer's Critique Groups:
Where to Find Them
"Musings" for January 2005
by Margot FinkeSponsored Links
Part two of three
Many talented and published writers rely on some form of outside checks and balances to ensure that their writing is the best it can be. The style, content, and quality of what they write is of paramount importance. This is where a good critique group is invaluable. Critique groups provide a level of overview and feedback that helps a writer prepare their ms. (manuscript) for an editor's sharp scrutiny.
The Search Criteria:
There are many different ways to find critique groups. First, look for a group that fits your needs. Like buying comfortable shoes, or exactly the right outfit, you might need to try on quite a few before finding the perfect fit. If you are a beginner at writing, try to locate a group that contains at least one or two advanced or published writers. You want to learn the writing ropes, and joining five or six beginners who are uncertain of how to proceed, won't be much help.
Note: Follow my own critique experiences, and those of others, in the examples below. Thanks to everyone who contributed information. However, due to space concerns, I had to trim some of the information provided.
Face-to-face Critique Groups:
Many writers form groups that meet in person on a regular basis. Small groups can meet in cafes, at private homes, local libraries, or during sunny days in the park. Join the SCBWI (Society of Children's Writers & Illustrators). Ask your local chapter if critique groups meet near you. Other writing organizations also offer critique groups for children's writers.
Real-time critique groups can be formed in a number of other ways. Bookstores like Borders, Powel's, or your cozy local bookstore, will often allow writers to meet on their premises. It can be a few writing friends who live close enough to meet, or members of a writing class that decide to critique each other's work after class.
- Elizabeth Koenig -
In the early '90s I took a University of California extension class from the wonderful children's book illustrator Daniel San Souci. Some of his more serious students started meeting once a week and sharing work, making suggestions, and offering critiques. After a while, we dropped to once every two weeks, then once a month. We usually met at a cafe, but occasionally we met at an event, or at each other's homes. We had different styles, but enjoyed sharing work and encouraging each other. Result: Several members moved away, or on to other interests, and eventually we stopped meeting. It was a great group while it lasted, and I am still in contact with some members.
- Margot Finke -
Early on, when I began serious writing, I became a member of Oregon's Willamette Writers. A few children's writers formed a face-to-face critique group. We met once a month at a fast food restaurant near Portland. Unfortunately, all the members were new to writing, including me. We desperately needed guidance from a writer who was more knowledgeable and advanced. I participated for a year, floundering along with everyone else. The membership dwindled, and I bought my first computer. Result: The Internet opened up new vistas of children's writing for me, so I quit this group and moved on. I surfed onto the CW list, and since then, I have sailed along with their ever-expanding crew.
Online Critique Groups:
One of the easiest and best places to find critique groups is online. Many members of children's writing lists, such as CW (Children's Writers), the Yella Board, and The Children's Book Writers Café form private critique groups. You can also go to Yahoo , click on "Groups," and choose from the ones they list. After you join, ask if there are critique group vacancies in the age you write for. Another option is an open critique group, like YAWrite. Members post their work directly to the site for any member to critique. OR, type "Children's Critique Groups" into Google, and watch your screen fill with a variety of possibilities.
- Barbara Ehrentreu -
I logged on to Topica and found a group called ScribbleandScribe. They critiqued everything from early PB's to YA. They were very supportive. I've been with them for almost 3 years, as well as another group that only does MG and YA, called YA Authors. I also joined a third online group that only critiqued Fantasy. The Fantasy group had a separate website, and we downloaded our MS from that, and then critiqued them. We sent them back to the website with our comments. The MS were very long and we were required to read everyone's subs. This became a problem, so I got out of that group. Result: Each of these experiences was unique. All of the groups were private, and I had to submit a writing sample before being accepted. The group I love the most is my YA group. I think their feedback is honest, and I believe their comments more than any other group.
- Lori Mortensen -
I'd been writing and selling children's magazine stories for several years, when I stumbled upon the Blue Phantom Writering Website. This site eventually morphed into www.Boost4writers.com , a website dedicated to getting children's writers together based on genre. I've been the moderator of their "BlueYonders," a PB (picture book) critique group, for the past two-and-a-half years. What is wonderful about this random approach is the amazing people that come along. Everyone, no matter what their writing level, has unique insights to offer. But circumstances change, and every year one or two people move on. Result: I've made great connections with accomplished writers. This has helped me move my writing to the next level. I have also interacted with people from far-flung places; such as Austria and Madagascar. These are writers I would never have otherwise met.
- Margot Finke -
When I first joined the CW list as a rank novice, several wonderfully talented writers invited me into their private critique group. Their advice and feedback set me on the right path. I left the group because I wanted to concentrate on mid grades, and at the time, all the members wrote picture books. After that, I enjoyed a membership in YAWrite I spent a lot of time critiquing, as well as reading the critiques of others. I learned a great deal from doing this. They gave good feedback on several of my picture books and some beginning mid grade chapters. Result: For a time, both groups worked well for me. However, when I needed help and feedback on my completed mid grade, I found no one was interested in staying with me until the final pages there was no continuity. This forced me to look elsewhere for critique help.
Small Private Groups:
Small private groups often form after writers get to know each other, either in a College writing class, a writing conference, or online. Their styles mesh nicely, and they trust each other's writing judgment. Close friendships, talent, and a uniform goal, spur these tight-knot groups onto success.
- Molly Blaisdell, Regional co-Advisor, SCBWI, Western Washington Region
A local writing course is a great place to meet up and form a person-to-person critique group. You have the opportunity to find out if people are compatible with you before you put in a huge investment of time. Some writing teachers offer master classes. This is a great way to break into a more advanced critique group. Several of our local bookstores offer monthly critique group meetings. I know people who have found critique groups this way. Result: Usually, the bookstore allows the critique group to advertise for members, promoting the store's name as their meeting place. Some years ago, I joined a critique group in Texas through an advertisement in the local paper.
- Margot Finke
After several earlier forays into the world of critiques, I decided to form two online groups - Opus, a group for mid grade writers, and Rhymers, a group for rhyming picture books. Members came from the large pool of writers on the CW list. In each case, I sent in a post asking if there were writers wanting to join a new critique group. Both of the groups I founded are private. Newcomers must submit a story to be evaluated, and then a majority vote decides whether they are accepted. MS go back-and-forth via copy-and-paste, or an attachment is used for groups of chapters. Result: Membership of both Opus and Rhymers has changed over the years writers come and go. But current members are always available for a quick critique, or a thoughtful appraisal of a problem chapter or verse.
The One-of-a-kind Critique Group:This kind of group encourages the rebel in us. Writers here do not cling to the rules. They put ads in local newspapers, meet in bars, and talk to people in shopping aisles. The best way to describe these one-of-a-kind groups is to introduce you to writers who participated in them.
- Keely -
We met at a non-fiction writing workshop. She was looking for a new group member: now there are five of us scattered from Cal to Vermont. We post questions, musings, hoorays, and rejections online, and generally a piece to critique once a month. We are the 'Inksters', and we all belong to SCBWI, but met informally. Result: This year we started a new tradition: a weekend writing retreat in Tahoe. . . Bliss!
My other group is 'Literary Lushes,' so called because we meet once a month in a bar: five women writing very different styles, from journalists, and spiritual awareness, to PB's and midgrades! It all began when I met a women in Baby Gap. It turned out she was a full-time mom freelancing from home. I was a full time mom also writing from home, so we hit it off. She invited me to join her writing group, newly formed from a defunct Barnes and Noble discussion group, on writing! Result: Every one of us has now been published: two have even won awards! Neither group spends a lot of time critiquing in person. We do that online, with feedback and the occasional personal call. We meet in person to catch up on the latest writer gossip, share ideas, and cheer each other on.
- Gail Martini-Peterson -
I work with an online critique group through SCBWI. I'm the one who organizes them for my chapter, but for many years I attended an eclectic face-to-face group.
Sisi was in her mid-80's, an elderly writer/sculpture/artist who finally gave up driving after her husband passed on. She decided she needed visitors in her home, so she wouldn't get lonely. Sisi put an ad in the local paper. There is always a section in the local paper - called Meetings, or Local Activities etc., and small blurbs are free. There you find church dinners, girl scouts, AA meetings, and all sorts of groups that announce their presence. She put in a blurb that ran for years:
Writers' Critique group meets weekly at 1 PM on Friday. Call (phone number) for information.
Sisi had a core group that showed up every Friday; but there were always new ones who came and went. Some were as interesting as the writing they did. A children's writer could do a similar thing, using a local coffee shop or cafe as the meeting place. And to get better attendance, the time should be in the evening. Result: Sisi passed on two years ago, in January, and I miss her so. She was 92 years old, looked 65, and was a wonderful writer.
If you long to be in a supportive and helpful critique group, go where children's writers gather - online writing sites and web pages, writing organizations, writing conferences or college classes. Bookstores and newspaper adds also work.. Smile, schmooze, and let it be known you want to join a critique group for children's writers.
Happy Writing Mates.
Last month: First article in the series: Children's Writers: Who Mentors Them Today?
Next month: Third article in the series: Starting Your Own Critique Group
Margot Finke's biography and index to Musings.
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