The Best Critique Money Can’t Buy

There is nothing so precious and productive as a good writing group. Why? It gives a writer:

  • Accountability — people are waiting to read your stuff, so you write it
  • Support — getting published ain’t easy, but we’re in it together
  • Skill-building — not just in writing, but also in giving and receiving critiques
  • Mentorship — writing improves rapidly and exponentially with experienced help
  • Cheese — we bring it. And then we eat it.

The writing group I belong to, a highly secretive coterie known as “The Red Notebook Society,” meets every second Monday for 2.5 hours (6:30-9pm). It goes like this:

– We rotate among member homes. It’s a small group (4 people).

– We almost always each bring work, up to 5 double-spaced pages each, a copy for each person.

– We all happen to be working on novels at the moment, but we sometimes bring short stories, poems, query letters–anything we want critiqued.

– We start each group with “my writing week”–taking turns to talk for a couple of minutes about how the writing went, what’s new, if and where we got stuck, how agent or publisher queries are going, any conferences or workshops, and what we brought tonight, work-wise.

– The first reader hands out copies of their pages, then reads their work aloud.

– After the first person reads their work, silence ensues, and the scratching of pens on the work itself. Then we each give an oral critique of the work just read. Because we read and critique short pieces on the spot (rather than sending each other chapters ahead of time) we have learned to critique with the understanding that we might not have the whole picture.

– The person being critiqued listens and takes notes. The feedback I’ve received has been, without fail, extraordinarily helpful.

– Everyone hands back their copy to the first reader.

– We do it again with readers #2, #3, and #4.

– We pack up, thank the host, and make our ways home.

– Sometime before the next meeting, I go over my written critique copies and incorporate the suggestions into my manuscript. Not all of them, of course, but plenty. Most.

– We also act as beta readers for each others’ completed manuscripts.

That’s it! The best kind of continuing education money can’t buy.

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