Lessons Learned

In my early days as a writer I lived in a small community and found myself somewhat isolated. Each year I attended writer's conferences, but felt more support was needed. When we moved to Phoenix I joyfully found a critique group attached to my local library. For more than fifteen years I have continued to meet with this group  twice a month and they've been a help. I also attended several meetings of other groups in my area, looking for a "write" fit. All of it has been a learning experience on what works for me and what doesn't. Here's what I've learned. 

1. As a novelist, a group for me must allow submission of longer chapters. In written form. Several of the groups I tried out had members read aloud portions of their manuscript for immediate comment. These type of groups seemed to work better for poets and flash fiction authors. Because, for me, grammar was a weakness, the submission of written work allowed me to see where I needed to work and also helped to improve my writing.

2. I learned to have a thick skin. Our babies, as novelists, typically take us nine months to write and we become very attached to those babies. Giving them over to someone else to critique is difficult. But necessary. While it was sometimes challenging to hear comments of an unfavorable nature, I have come to realize my story telling improved greatly from the comments given.

3. Before submitting to a group it is important to have a finished product. This has allowed me to maintain my voice while benefiting from the group insights. Before I learned this valuable lesson I became lost trying to please too many with my story and eventually pleased no one - that particular partial novel still sits in a drawer. 

4. I once read an article about "puff" groups. Those that just tell you everything is great. That you are amazing. Watch out for them. You may be amazing, or they may not have the courage to tell you what you need to work on, and generally, there is always something that can be improved, right?

D. Jean Quarles is a writer of Women's Fiction. She loves to tell stories of personal growth where success has nothing to do with money or fame, but of living life to the fullest. She is the author of Rocky's Mountains, Fire in the Hole and, Perception. The Mermaid, an award winning short story was published in the anthology, Tales from a Sweltering City. She is a wife, mother, grandmother and business coach. In her free time . . . ha! ha! ha! Anyway, you can find more about D. Jean Quarles, her writing and her books at her website at www.djeanquarles.com

Her novels are available in electronic format here, or print format here
You can also follower her at www.djeanquarles.blogspot.com or on Facebook
Or you can just contact her at d.jeanquarles@yahoo.com


Karen Cioffi said...

Jean, I agree that critique groups need to be a fit. I was a moderator of a children's critique group and our work process was 'laid back.' One member found it frustrating, thinking we weren't serious about writing and left.

And, I think each group has their own process, how much content can be offered at a time, how often can a member submit and so on.

I'd love to find an offline local critique group - I'll have to start looking into it.

Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing

D. Jean Quarles said...

I have wondered about finding an online group that would be as committed and effective. It is a challenge. Thanks for commenting.

Heidiwriter said...

I belong to two wonderful crit groups. In one we print out copies for each member, read them aloud and the suggestions are written on the pages. In the other group, we read aloud only, and the listeners/critiquers make notes on a notepad. Other groups I've been in send pages home with members and discuss at the next meeting. There are advantages and disadvantages to all methods.

D. Jean Quarles said...

You are so right, Heidi.

Kathleen Moulton said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Jean - so helpful!


Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Great thoughts on critique groups. I find having a committed group is invaluable. At times I will bring a piece before I have a finished project, if I'm struggling with the direction or some other element of the piece.

Magdalena Ball said...

Good tips Jean. I especially agree with the one on needing a thick skin. The whole point of a critique group is to help you improve and while criticism can hurt, it's so much better to get it before you submit to a publisher (or after the book is published in the form of a bad review!).

Debbie A Byrne said...

Great post on critique groups.

Shirley Corder said...

Good input, Jean. Yes, I value my critique group, but you need a group that will not only encourage, they will point out all the errors. Otherwise they're not helping you at all.

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