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Growing a Writer’s Critique Group
by Kathryn Lay

A great critique group doesn’t just happen; it begins as a seed and grows into something amazing if it is nurtured properly. What is the process of turning an okay group into a garden of published and working writers?

TILLING THE SOIL

You are ready to begin a critique group, not having found one in your area. To prepare for your group, think about what you want out of a critique group. Are you looking for a specific genre or just want a children’s writers group in general? Will it be weekly, twice a week, or once a month? Will you bring manuscripts for everyone to take home and bring back the next week, or have members read and receive critique cold turkey? Will you have specific rules for critiquing, such as allowing comments from the writer during their critique or not allowing defending? Do you want to limit the amount of members in your group? If you have ground rules in your mind and on paper when you begin your group, your incoming members can decide if they agree with them enough to join or if they feel your group isn’t quite right for them.

PLANTING SEEDS

If you are involved in a local SCBWI, begin advertising for your critique group. Make sure to mention if it’s all genres or picture books only. Suggest an initial meeting time and place. Perhaps you have specific writers in mind that you would like to be a part of your small group. Be honest with yourself. Personalities that clash too strongly will not make for an enjoyable experience. Perhaps you want all beginners, all published writers, or a mixture. If possible, it’s best to have a mixture. Once you have your first meeting, talk about the best times to meet. Set up a central location. Do you know of a small restaurant that will let you use a corner room? A bookstore? Library? Or a church? Go over the rules and discuss which ones are flexible. Will it bother you if some members go weeks without reading their work? To have a group that really works its best, encourage everyone to participate as much as possible. If you have a group of 8 and meet every other week, showing up with 2 members several times in a row may get frustrating. Have an email chain set up to let the group know if some will not be able to make a meeting.

WATER & FERTILIZE

A critique group that bonds can be the backbone of a writer’s life. Every week that I am able, I attend the critique group I’ve been a part of for the past 12 years. We are friends. We are family. It is a time that I rejuvenate my writer’s soul with those of my companions. I can share my ups and downs, my joys and frustrations, and commiserate with theirs. When there is sickness, babies and grandbabies born, birthdays, etc., we get involved. But it isn’t a social club. We write, we critique, we market, we publish. We have times before critique group where we study the books of other children writers. Time to talk about our lives. Then, we get down to the business of reading and critiquing. Depending on how many of our group of 13 show up, we have 15-20 minutes to read and be critiqued. We encourage kindness and honesty. If we are kind without honesty, we do nothing but pat one another on the back. If we are brutally honest, we risk discouragement. We pass around the names of publications and editors. We encourage one another to step out and do something different, take risks, overcome fears.

PULL WEEDS

As time goes on, you may find that some plans work, others don’t. You may find a troublesome member to deal with. Your meeting place may become a problem. Whenever possible, keep your garden free of weeds and bugs that are there to choke out your creativity and passion. Talk out problems, find solutions. A great critique group is worth the effort.

WATCH IT BLOSSOM

In the last few years our group has sold approximately 15 books, and been published in numerous magazines and anthologies. We participate in school talk preparations and storytelling plans. Members’ books have been nominated for and won many other awards, Tuesdays from 11-2:30 is often the pivotal point of my writing week. I may come tired or discouraged. But after hours of laughing and sharing, of hearing praise for my work and getting an honest assessment of how to make it better before it is sent to my agent or editors, I know that I am motivated, challenged, encouraged, and better prepared for another week of writing and marketing. Our writer’s group blooms all year long. Do you have a garden growing? If not, consider finding an established group or starting your own. And if it’s cared for properly, you’ll build relationships as you create publishable work.

© Copyright 2002, Kathryn Lay

Kathryn Lay is the author of 26 books for children, over 2000 articles, essays and stories for children and adults and the book from AWOC.COM Publishing, The Organized Writer is a Selling Writer. Check out her website at www.kathrynlay.com and email through rlay15@aol.com

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