karen_w_newton (karen_w_newton) wrote,

Writer's groups: my take

I belong to a face-to-face critique group, known affectionately as the Writer's Group From Hell (WGFH). Truth to tell, it is not hellish at all. The membership right now hovers around 9 or 10 people, with some folks attending more regularly than others. One person is not a writer, but she reads extensively in the field, and hey, who are we to turn down a good critiquer. We meet more or less monthly and while some folks submit work only rarely, others are very active.

In the past, I also belonged to the Del Rey Digital Workshop, which later morphed into the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. In fact, I won the very first Editor's Choice Award for science fiction chapters; the first fantasy Editor's Choice went to a guy named Jim Butcher. Wonder what ever happened to him? -)

The question of whether to join a writer's group gets asked a lot. Every writer has an opinion, but the consensus is that a bad group is worse than no group. What constitutes a bad group? In my opinion, it would be one that wastes your time. The trick is figuring out which ones are doing that. If you spend a lot of time reading and critiquing other folks and no one is giving you useful feedback, then that's a waste of time. Useful feedback has several characteristics. It has to be honest, and it has to be specific. "You have no talent," is not useful feedback. "This story didn't work for me because the protagonist was too smart and too perfect and never changed or grew," is useful information.

So, at it's simplest, a good group has to provide useful feedback. At the same time, that feedback can't be at the expensive of what makes your story your story. Some honest, constructive feedback is really just a subconscious attempt to make a story over into the critiquers own story. In a good group, you listen, you say thank you, but you have no obligation to take anyone's advice. When you get a critique, listen with your mind. Does the suggestion or comment ring a bell in your head that says, "Hey, this person is right!" Or is it simply a matter of it's not their kind of story and they're trying to make it something else?

Further, any critique given in a snarky tone is suspect from the get-go. If a writer can't suppress his or her inner snark in offering advice, then quite possibly he or she doesn't care whether your story succeeds or fails.

I have stuck with WGFH partly because they offer flexibility. They will let writers submit whole novels, or works in progress, whichever the novelist prefers. There are very few rules, so we don't get bogged down in procedure, and finally, it's a fun group.

My husband calls them my support group, and I'm not saying he's wrong.

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