I’ve always loved critique groups. After all, without them many writers would likely never have been published. Think of Tolkien and the Inklings. Would Tolkien have published The Hobbit and ultimately The Lord of the Rings? You could argue that he would have without being part of the Inklings, but then you could also argue that the friendships he developed with those men and those in groups he was a part of before compelled him to write LOTR.
I’m also a fan of online critique groups. Critique Circle has one of the best crit systems I have ever seen. They have several forms, but I am quite fond of the “In-line” form, which allows you to click on each paragraph that you want to comment on to make commments, and when you send the critique the author sees those comments below said paragraphs. It makes online critting so easy because you can actually do something constructive without a lot of clicking and fiddling. Let’s face it, critiquing via MS Word or whatever program you use is no easy picnic, even with that handy highlight feature–and honestly I haven’t a clue how to highlight and don’t intend to learn.There are a lot of other critique groups out there, obviously, some free, some not. There is Critters Writers’ Workshop, which I found to be rather interesting as it puts its focus in SF/F/H work–seeing how the former vice president of SFWA–Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s of America, Inc.–runs it. I personally cannot say whether Critters is any good as I am not a part of it. I am a part of Critique Circle, and would definitely recommend that. If anyone is a part of Critters, please leave a comment. Tell us what it’s like to be a part of it.
And what about all your critique groups out there? Or do you not have one? Granted, sites like Critters or Critique Circle aren’t really critique groups in the traditional sense. Unless you develop a relationship with certain individuals on there you’ll likely only receive comments from the same person on rare occasion. But, you do tend to get valuable feedback nonetheless. Here are some things I’ve learned about being involved in face to face, online, and other (the other being some critiques I received from editors on short story submissions):
1. Remember that any feedback you give should be constructive. Never bat down a writer by telling them their work is dreadfully horrible and that they will never amount to anything. There are only two outcomes in that situation: the writer will be severely hurt, hate you, and maybe stop writing altogether or flame you unmercifully or cease to be a good constructive critter for you, or they will break away from you entirely and end up being published while you’re not. You don’t want either of those. Well, that’s not entirely true. The idea behind critique groups is to help each other become published, but still, nobody likes a ‘revenge publishing’.
2. Don’t do anything to the writers work that they didn’t ask for. If they don’t want red pen, or they don’t want you to judge the grammar, then don’t. Unless the writing is so abysmally bad that you can’t help but make a few grammatical changes then don’t do anything at all. Actually, if the writing is so bad that you can’t help yourself then maybe that person needs to pick up Strunk & White’s book The Elements of Style, a sort of mini-Bible for any writer. And suggesting taking some basic english classes at a community college would help…
3. Make yourself as clear as possible. Don’t say something that is so vague. Saying “something about this felt wrong” doesn’t give the writer anything to go on. What was wrong about it? Did it seem grammatically weak, or what? I’ve given my fair share of vague comments, and I try my best not to give them. It’s hard, I know. But you have to be strong my young padawan’s. Strong…
4. You don’t know everything. Even if you think you do, you don’t. Sorry, plain and simple. Not even the most successful writers know everything. It’s best to be humble. Sure, give your opinion, thoughts, etc., but don’t pretend like you know it all. This is especially bad when someone who has not been published yet tries to give you worldly advice on getting published. Anyone else see a problem with such advice?
I’m sure I’ve learned some other things, but I can’t quite put my finger on them right now. For a later post of course. The same goes for much of the other things I wanted to discuss on such groups. So, next week or later there will be a part two. Anything you might have learned?