Monday, February 20, 2006

Crit Groups

That does it. One of my Moxie crit partners has struck again! Last night I stayed up far, far too late reading her novel and not working on my own until I'd finished hers. I couldn't help myself--the temptation to find out what changes she'd made was just too great. But the good news is that her current book is done other than the final little fixes and tweaks, everyone had something to contribute at our meeting last night, and everyone is making progress. In my case, not as fast a progress as I wanted, but progress nonetheless.

More than once I've had local people ask me about crit groups, and it's difficult when I know the answer won't be the one they wanted. The fact that I belong to a local crit group isn't a secret and sometimes it comes up in casual conversation, but our group is a closed one, and we don't plan to take any new members. Some writers' groups are large, sprawling, take-anyone types, and others are online or email groups that never actually meet in the flesh. A writer's group can take any form, and there are no set rules for how one should be organized.

I've visited open groups in the past where it seemed that most of the members only wanted to have a ready-made audience to listen to them read their stuff out loud, but they really didn't want an honest critique and didn't want to find out how they might improve their technique or even, gods forbid, their plot. Some of the online groups are excellent and far-reaching and welcoming to any hopeful writer with a focus on developing publishable works. Others just want to--once again--have a guaranteed audience for their work, be it good or bad, with little to no emphasis on improvement. And that's fine, too. The publishing game's not for everyone. Look how long it takes just to get over the first hurdles! It represents a substantial investment of time and dedication, and for many it might just be too much of a headache. If you find that a push for publication takes all the joy out of your writing, then maybe that road is not for you. The good news is that if you want to find a group of like-minded individuals whose focus is similar to your own, they are out there for the finding. And if you don't happen to find one that is a good match for you, start your own. You can't be the only lone writer out there longing for a sense of community.

With time, a good group can become so tight and so familiar with each other that members can practically order each other's food at restaurants, not to mention find and point out each person's particular strengths and weaknesses with regards to their writing in each manuscript. It can be very interesting to watch a person's skill at the craft develop and grow. The very familiarity that makes your group so comfortable and tight, however, can sometimes have a slight downside in that you can become desensitized to some of your partners' writing quirks and might, on occasion, miss some of the mistakes that you might once have caught. This usually happens with multiple readings of the same manuscript, when the lines between Draft A and Draft D become blurred through all the revisions. It can be hard to remember which version is the current one, even when it's your own manuscript! This is when a good outside test reader can be a strength, providing a fresh perspective on the now-familiar material that you've been through ten times already. It really becomes a "forest for the trees" situation, and the unfamiliar pair of eyes can often be sharper. I like to have both, and I always look forward to the Moxie's meetings. We make a good team, and I wouldn't trade them on a bet. They watch my six, and I watch theirs.

There is a very good online writers' community started by author Holly Lisle. It's called Forward Motion, because that is what they strive for. You can find it at If you've been struggling on your own and want to give a group a try, go and check it out. It's a living, breathing, positive place to share your journey with other writers, hear other people's opinions of the writing life, take part in self-monitored writing challenges, get a few good ideas, and even give or get a few critiques along the way. Good luck!

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