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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Bob and I are working on a critique group guide for writers. I'm curious to what all you of you find useful when it comes to critique.

I think I have been involved in every type of critique group know to writers at some point over the last 10 years and while I learned a fair amount about writing (passive versus active, dangling modifiers, etc) there has only been form of critique that has really pushed my writing to the next level and that was a weekend retreat I took with Bob a few years ago.

I was a reading a bunch of different threads on the boards where we were all talking about feedback, both positive and negative. I've talked to a lot of writers who get frustrated with critique groups. I've also talked to a lot of writers who have great critique groups.

So, my question is what makes a critique group successful? What do you look for? Do you use them? Only use Beta Readers? Any insight would be helpful.
 

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I use critiquecircle.com. I think the thing that makes it so successful is that you have to critique a lot in order to post your stuff. After giving a lot of critiques you learn a bunch. But different people find different things in your writing, so one person might give the kind of critique that is just nit picking about word choice. Someone else might nit pick about adverbs and telling instead of showing. Someone else might just give you their reactions to reading the story.

They are ALL helpful to me in different ways.

One other thing I'll mention is on CC they have some very good templates for giving critiques. They ask you questions that you're supposed to answer about the piece you're critiquing. Very helpful if you've never given critiques before.

Vicki
 

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Victorine said:
I use critiquecircle.com.
Ditto. I tried some others like Scribophile, but I didn't like the structure as much, nor the quality of the critiques I received. I've toyed with the idea of joining a live group, but that's just a little too personal for me. I like my crits sterile.
 

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Critique Circle is the best.  I also tried Critters, Litopia, and a small sci-fi group, but none of these was as helpful as Critique Circle.  What Vicki says about CC is correct.  You'll have to work hard in that group if you wish to receive return crits.  But hard work pays off, especially at CC.
 

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What I have found most beneficial is to learn what you can from one group or class or workshop... and then move on.

The main problem of any group is that you fall into a pattern of group-think.  You need to expose yourself to a variety of opinions when you're learning, so that you are reminded that they are opinions.

The best thing you can have, though, is a circle of friends - a less formal group.  Find people who think enough like you to understand what you're going for, but enough different to have perspective on your writing.

My main problem right now is that I can't really help many of my old writing buds with their writing (I'm too far out of the genres they write these days), and I'm just in the process of building up a new circle. 

Camille
 

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Being a novelist, I have never found a group that worked for me really. I have beta readers which is quite a different thing. But for a novelist, the inability of a group to deal with long fiction is (imo) a real problem. I've done workshops that worked well, but doing little bits at a time just didn't work.

I tried several different groups and just never found one that was particularly helpful.
 

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I'll add my vote to Critique Circle. What I find most helpful is that it's active. A couple good tips from several people adds up. "Critters" aren't reading the critiques others left before them so often I'll get three or four people making the same suggestion. Very often they contradict each other ("I didn't like the ending" -- "I loved the ending!"). It's fascinating.

As Vicki mentioned - CC offers several critique templates. These are very useful, not just to leave critiques at CC, but also at Amazon, Goodreads, etc.
 

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JRTomlin said:
Being a novelist, I have never found a group that worked for me really. I have beta readers which is quite a different thing. But for a novelist, the inability of a group to deal with long fiction is (imo) a real problem. I've done workshops that worked well, but doing little bits at a time just didn't work.

I tried several different groups and just never found one that was particularly helpful.
Got to agree here especially -- "One chapter at at time" groups are utterly useless, except in meeting up with other people who are as dissatisfied as you are.

Camille
 

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My preference is actually a crit partner (or 2) and some beta readers.  People who "get" your style, and your story...and won't try to rewrite it for you.

I used to really like criters.org, but you get the "too many cooks" scenario and a lot of subjective opinions.  You also have to make at least 2 crits per week of other writers in the group--so you'll be spending a lot of your time critiquing. You have to weed out the good advice from the bad, to the just plain terrible.  The good thing about criters though, is they encourage fair, balanced critiques and (as I recall) prohibit critiques that just state "I like it."or "I hate it." They have other beneficial policies as well and it's very well-moderated.




 

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I personally don't like critique groups. When I first started writing I joined one and found it to be unhelpful to have that many opinions when it came to the creative process. Now I do a complete first draft and send it to two beta readers. Once I get it back and do the first round of revisions I send it to two more beta readers. Usually by this time I'm well aware of the problems or plot holes. Then it goes off to my agent for her comments.
 
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Small. Focused. Professional. Personal.

If online groups are all you can get, I totally understand. But please consider the sources. Advice from an established author you admire is not the same as advice from a person you DON'T. Be picky.

I have a small, private, off-line-only group.  We meet once a month without fail and often get together in smaller clusters.  Our membership is 24.  I would say there is rarely a meeting with fewer than 20.  We have strict rules about group crits.  What individuals do on their own is open-- but because we are not goofing around and aren't dealing with hobbyists or people who will join any group involving free food and the possibility of attention, it's pretty safe to swap with another member.

I DO think setting ground rules is incredibly smart.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
I have never heard of critique circle before.

One of the reasons I ask is that I find most critique groups to be more line edits, chapter by chapter, versus looking at overall storytelling etc. I have two writer friends I work with on a regular basis, but its more of beta reading for each other, or brainstorming out ideas.

Just really curious on everyone's take on the subject. Thanks! Great input.
 

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JenniHolbrook-Talty said:
I have never heard of critique circle before.

One of the reasons I ask is that I find most critique groups to be more line edits, chapter by chapter, versus looking at overall storytelling etc. I have two writer friends I work with on a regular basis, but its more of beta reading for each other, or brainstorming out ideas.

Just really curious on everyone's take on the subject. Thanks! Great input.
Fair warning about critique circle, it's not easy finding someone to follow your whole story. There are people on there who have formed relationships and they exchange full manuscript critiques, but I think it takes some time to find someone who'll do that with you. Mostly, it's people like me who might follow a story for ten chapters, then get too busy on their own WIP and miss the next ten. You'll get a mix of line edits and overall storytelling suggestions, depending on who is available to critique when you post your story
 

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A group I joined last year has an interesting format.

The meeting starts around noon or 1 PM. Everyone reads quietly what the others have brought. Around 3 or 4 the critiquing begins. Everyone is limited to 3 minutes to critique a work. (As these sometimes lead to ideas and suggestions, that time limit becomes flexible.)

This format works well for short stories, but not so much for longer works. It works for this group because there aren't many members, and all write science fiction and fantasy. Sometimes the comments are helpful and sometimes. The comments do tend to be more on storytelling, which is what I like.
 
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Robert, that sounds really cool.

My own small group is meeting Sunday.  We started, about 6 months ago, picking 4 "chunks" to crit as a group.  Usually this is no more than 3 chapters of a WIP.  Everyone who comes to the meeting MUST red-pen at least 2... but usually we see all 4 done.  We take 2 hours to bull-session it at a public place, then one or two people usually volunteer to do follow up groups at their homes.  It SHOULD be chaos, but so far it just works.
 

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I consider myself to be one of the luckiest people ever in this area. I joined a critique group January 2000 and am still in it. I was writing well before that, but the first book I took through the entire critique process was the first published traditionally (coincidence? not hardly).

We started out as aspiring writers, and while membership has changed a bit over time, most of us have been there 5+ years, we're all published several times over, we've won awards, and a former member is even a NY Times bestseller.

We didn't start out great, but we learned a ton as we went along. We write different genres, but we're all dedicated to learning and growing, and we all read a ton in a variety of genres. We have different strengths, so I worry if one person or another isn't there, because I may miss out on a motivation, character, or big-picture issue or whatever.

We used to be pretty centralized geographically. Now we're spread out a bit, but we still try to meet almost weekly, rotating houses.

There isn't usually time to get through an entire ms around the table, so we often use one another as beta readers for the entire thing when it's done. We swap mss and give one another edits that way. It's been awesome.

I wouldn't be where I am without them.
 

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modwitch said:
but the biggest issue there is that they aren't nearly as prolific as I am - they're on the one manuscript a year track
And then there are those of us who are on the one manuscript every five years track. :'(
 

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I love Critique Circle and really can't say enough good things about it. I've found some wonderful critique partners and friends there. I think I've learned as much from giving crits as getting them.

modwitch said:
I used critique circle some. I still run short stories through there occasionally. They were a great audience for the first chapter of my first book - learned a lot about how not to start a book that way :). However, I found feedback on the next couple of chapters to be far less useful (and far more focused on grammar/mechanics, and not on story - makes sense, but that wasn't where I wanted feedback). I found a couple of excellent partners to swap with from CC, but the biggest issue there is that they aren't nearly as prolific as I am - they're on the one manuscript a year track.
I've seen people on CC specify that they want story crits rather than grammar ones. I don't know if it really works to request that because I haven't tried. I find that I get a nice mix of the two. I tend to give story crits if the writing is solid. Though I will point out typos, incorrect words or sentences that are awkward.
 

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modwitch said:
I always specified story crits - I think it's just difficult to story crit ch4 when you haven't read ch1-3. It's also compounded by the fact that my books have a lot of POV changes, and a lot of strong secondary characters - so a chapter out of context tends to feel pretty disconnected. I found it fairly easy to give story crits for a book chapter from a plot-driven book, but mine aren't exactly plot heavy :D.

I also found that I learned a lot from critiquing others, but you have to critique 2-3x as much as you put up, and I couldn't afford to put that amount of time into it. I would definitely use it more if I were writing some short stories - it's fantastic for that.
Oh ya, there are some problems with the model, no doubt. I find myself rushing through crits sometimes at the end of the week because I don't want them to close up before I get to them.

I totally agree about catching chapters out of sequence. It's very confusing to come into chapter 5 of a novel and figure out what's going on. I find it interesting that some people will do exactly that. The chapter is clearly labeled 7 and they make all kinds of notes asking about what's going on... Well, let me explain it to you, but it will take 6 chapters!

I guess I find it so helpful because I know I couldn't do an in person critiquing group and I crave feedback.
 
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