Enjoy this guest post by the very talented and active author, editor and poet JM Reinbold.
Among writers, there doesn’t seem to be a “middle of the road” opinion about critique groups. Writers either like them or they don’t. We’ve all heard success stories, as well as horror stories. An effective critique group can help you improve your writing skills and your critiquing skills. It can keep you motivated, increase your chances of publication, and give you a feeling of support and community. An ineffective critique group does none of these things.
I have been participating in and running critique groups since 1993. My first experience was with a college group. Members had participated in a creative writing class. The group was casual, met once a month at the college, read fiction and poetry, and was “moderated” by the person who had taught the class. Writing skills varied widely. There were no experienced or published writers in the group, and no one, including the moderator, with solid knowledge of critiquing fiction or poetry. My writing and critique skills didn’t grow much with this group, however, I was motivated to form my own critique group after I graduated.
This second group was somewhat less casual and included members with varying degrees of writing experience and critiquing skills. The group was open to anyone who requested to join. We had a core membership that attended regularly, others who attended sporadically, and a few who came and went fairly quickly. We conducted a formal workshop using the Milford method (UK) also known as the Iowa method (USA).
“With the Milford method manuscripts are distributed beforehand. Everyone reads, critiques, and prepares before the formal workshop begins. Etiquette precludes participants from discussing the manuscripts beforehand either with the author or other members of the critique group. The participants sit in a circle. The author whose work is being critiqued has to sit in silence through the first part in which each participant in turn is allowed an uninterrupted four minutes (timed) to deliver their critique. Then the author gets an uninterrupted right to reply. Following that a general discussion ensues. Constructive criticism is strongly encouraged. The critiqued manuscripts are given back to the author complete with notes.” (Wikipedia)
While more successful than the previous group, this critique group still didn’t meet my expectations. While the core group of six, who regularly attended the monthly meetings, were dedicated to writing regularly and improving their skills, other members attended sporadically and were less dedicated. Because the group was open and we took in new members four times a year, the group dynamic was constantly changing and members continually had to adapt. The number of members was sometimes too large and sometimes too small to operate effectively. More experienced and/or published writers felt they were put in a position of teaching less experienced members, while not receiving an insightful reading or useful criticism of their own work. As a result, most of the experienced writers left the group.
It was for these and other reasons that I decided to make the change to a “closed” critique group with members who were mostly professional writers, published or actively working toward publication. This closed group would have a maximum membership of six. New members would be sought only if there was a vacancy and only if all current members agreed. Prospective members were required to go through an application and acceptance process to ensure that they were a good fit for the group and that the group was a good fit for them.
We were clear about our expectations of members. We were looking for writers who were:
Serious about writing.
Committed to improving their writing skills.
Published or were actively working toward publication.
Consistently creating new work and revising work for publication.
Experienced in critiquing fiction.
Committed to continually sharpening their critique skills.
Willing to make a long-term commitment to working and growing with a critique group.
Willing to attend every meeting (except in cases of illness, vacation, or emergency)
Willing to provide thoughtful, honest, in-depth critiques delivered with courtesy and respect for the work and the author.
Inquirers filled out an application and submitted a writing sample. If the application was accepted, the inquirer became a candidate and participated in two meetings. At the first meeting the candidate critiqued a current member’s manuscript. At the second meeting, a manuscript submitted by the candidate was critiqued. At both meetings the candidate and current members had an opportunity to get to know one another and determine if all personalities were a good fit for the group. After the second meeting, the candidate’s application was voted on by the current members and if the vote was unanimously in favor of acceptance, then the candidate was invited to join the critique group.
Why go through this lengthy process? Because a good critique group can make a huge difference in how well and how quickly you grow as a writer. A good critique group also provides a community that “gets you” and will help accelerate your path to publication.
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If you are looking for a critique group or thinking of forming one, answer these two questions honestly:
“What do I want from a critique group?
“What can I contribute to a critique group?”
When TO participate in a critique group:
You want to take your writing to the next level
You want to see your work published
You are able to hear constructive criticism of your work
You can let go of ego, jealousy, and thin skin
You are able to and willing to help other writers improve their work
When NOT TO participate in a critique group:
You are only interested in what others can do for you
You only want others to tell you how good you are
You can’t hear constructive criticism
You’re satisfied with “good enough”
You view other writers as “the competition”
An excellent resource for participating in or starting a critique group is Becky Levine’s The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: How to Make Revisions, Self-Edit, and Give and Receive Feedback
Check out JM Reinbold’s very impressive bio:
JM Reinbold is the Director of the Written Remains Writers Guild and the moderator of the WR Mixed Genre Critique Group and the WR Literary Critique Group.
Joanne is the author of the uncozy, Britcrime mystery “Missing” published in Someone Wicked (Smart Rhino Publications, 2013).
Currently, Joanne is working on revising her first novel, another uncozy, Britcrime mystery featuring her two detectives from “Missing.”
Her story The Absinthe Assassin was recently featured in the Insidious Assassins anthology from Smart Rhino Publications. It takes place in 1930’s Paris in the Catacombs.
She is the author of the novelette “Transfusions” published in the anthology Stories from the Inkslingers (Gryphonwood Press, 2008). “Transfusions” was nominated for a Washington Science Fiction Association Small Press Award.
Joanne received an honorable mention from the Delaware Division of the Arts Individual Artist Fellowships for her work-in-progress Prince of the Piedmont. A portion of Prince of the Piedmont appears in “Wanderings: Cape Henlopen Writers 2012” (edited by Maria Masington, Beth Evans, and Phil Linz)She has been selected twice (2008, 2012) by the Delaware Division of the Arts as a fiction fellow for the Cape Henlopen Poets & Writers Retreat.
“Cernunnos, Ancient Celtic God” (Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, 1998), a work of creative nonfiction, was also included in Mything Links an on-line encyclopedia, and has since been reprinted dozens of times and translated into six languages.
Joanne is the co-editor with Weldon Burge of the highly acclaimed anthology Someone Wicked (Smart Rhino Publications, 2013), the co-editor with Ramona Long of Stories from the Ink Slingers (Gryphonwood Press, 2008), and will be co-editing the third Written Remains Anthology, Haunted, forthcoming from Smart Rhino Publications, and co-editing with Justynn Tyme the All-Out Monster Revolt Project’s giant monster anthology. She is the editor of the All-Out Monster Revolt magazine (Radio Active Mango Productions).
Joanne is the editor of The Cicada’s Cry: A Micro Zine of Haiku Poetry with Maria Masington.
She is a member of the Haiku Society of America and the Red Dragonfly Haiku Poets. Her haiku have been published by The Green Lane to Nowhere and Everywhere blog, Red Fez Magazine, The All-Out Monster Revolt Magazine, Earth Rising: A Collaborative Haiku Project of The Haiku Foundation, and are forthcoming in the HSA Anthology 2015.
Joanne’s collage art has been exhibited at the Newark Arts Alliance and at numerous Art Loop locations and shows in the area. She recently opened her studio JM Reinbold Haiku Arts, and teaches writing and art workshops at libraries and galleries around Delaware.
Joanne lives in Wilmington with her son, Justynn Tyme, and six cats. She is a curious collector of odd information which often ends up in her stories!
Find out more about JM Reinbold and her work at these locations: