OFF TOPIC: Is anyone else struggling to write during this crazy season? I am struggling. But it snowed yesterday, and I found myself enjoying the little flakes falling on my nose.

I have been a part of two critique groups since I began writing seriously. Each group was totally opposite in their approach and organization and each was a valuable learning experience. Though I don’t participate in any critique groups right now (for various reason which I shall expound upon further down,) I still keep in touch with several of the writers. Here is my experience and thoughts on critique groups:

Critique Group A Lassaiz-Faire: This group had no deadlines or guidelines. Writers could submit whatever they wanted whenever they wanted, and critique whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. The idea was that we would produce better material if we weren’t under pressure or constraint, and critique better with the same theory in mind.

Hole in the theory: Everyone submitted bunches of work to be critiqued but it all took months to make the rounds, (not helpful if you’re working with a submission deadline or simply just want to move on.) And since there was always a large pile of manuscripts to critique, we all (myself included) tended to get a bit lazy about our feedback, giving quick notes instead of specific, detailed criticism. For these reason I ended up leaving this group. I wasn’t getting much out of it.

Critique Group B Tight and Organized: A while later I decided it was time to try this again, with a bit more caution. I found another group looking for a writer and I inquired. Right off the bat I knew this was the group for me: Eight writers functioning on a Yahoo group with a moderator and strict submission/critique policy. Writers critique twice a week and submit work once a month, receiving 7 critiques at the end of your week. If you got off track with your critiquing the moderator cracked her whip.

I loved this group. Some were published, some were not. That wasn’t really important to me and didn’t seem important to any of them. What we cared about was taking ourselves and each other seriously, giving each other honest feedback and plenty of support. I learned a lot from all their work as well and they kept me on my toes.

So why did I leave?

Eventually I began working on my novel and it became quickly apparent that submitting chapters for critique as I wrote them was not going to be helpful. It was with a heavy heart that I left my critique group, but I think it was for the best. My work on my novel really took flight after I did.

My Advice: Think what your current needs as a writer are. If you’re just starting out I think critique groups are a great learning place. If you’re writing short stories, magazine articles, and picture books, critique groups do a lot of good in getting your manuscript ready for submission. If you have a difficult time staying motivated, a well organized critique group will keep you accountable.

How do you find a critique group? I found both groups in the Institute of Children’s Literature discussion boards. SCBWI and Verla Kay’s discussion boards will do similar things. Taking classes at local colleges or universities will get you in touch with local writers. I’m really only familiar with the children’s lit networks but I’m pretty sure there are several sites and societies dedicated to all kinds of writers which can facilitate finding an online critique group, or even a live one in your area. (Shout them out in the comments if you know of other resources!)

Because I’m working on my novel right now, I just have a handful of people willing to read my manuscript as a “beta-reader” when I’m ready. (I get more nervous the closer I get to being finished!) I’ll see how that process suits me. Can’t speak from experience now.

Anyone have good advice/experience when it comes to getting critiques? What system works best for you?

Coming up! My thoughts on taking criticism and suggestions. (This post will be mostly for my benefit as I get ready to get some of that, big time!)

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