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Five Kinds of Critique Group

For the past few weeks, we have looked at how temperaments affect writing styles. Let's take a tongue-in-cheek look at critique groups.

I’ve had the pleasure, at least the adventure, of participating in several writing groups throughout my career. Not all are what they should be. Of the ones I’ve experienced, I divide them up into five categories:

1. The “I Want To Be A Writer” group. This group of people has often considered writing a book. They meet to talk about their dream of writing like Stephen King. They can be very lovely social gatherings amidst witty, wordy people, but you won’t learn much about craft and probably won’t actually complete anything. The feedback is usually nonexistent because there is really nothing to critique yet.

2. The “I Want To Be Praised” group. This group contains people who are actively trying to write their magnum opus. They come together to egg each other on to write like Stephen King. They are typically light in the craft department and very full of the cheerleader-ish “you-go-girl” moments. You will leave eager to sit down and write, but will have no insight into what you are aiming for. The feedback is usually lacking in solid craft advice.

3. The “I’m A Writer and You’re Not” group. This group contains someone or “ones” who is/are an officially published author(s) who want/s to teach others what they have learned about writing from Stephen King. These can be very uplifting or very damaging depending on the egos at stake. You might walk away with some sound advice or with your manuscript in shreds. It depends on the level of nature versus nurture. The feedback is usually lopsided.

4. The “We All Write and Don’t Need Advice” group. This is where everyone in the group is convinced that he or she is the best thing since Stephen King and does not need your feedback but enjoys “sharing”. This can be a fun group. Doesn’t do much to grow your craft, but it can be hilarious. The feedback can be useful but is typically completely ignored.

5. Finally we come to my personal favorite, and one I subscribe to, “The Master Class Group.” Everyone is there to learn and grow their fiction into the best thing since Stephen King. All of the members can write and critique like professional editors. You leave feeling good about your work and with your manuscript polished and spit-shined like a pair of expensive leather shoes. The feedback is equal and honest without being catty or cruel. Egos are checked at the door and everyone makes sure to offer their advice in a palatable way.

I am lucky to have a group that not only challenges my plot, my characters, and my prose, they also help me fix it! 

Not everyone needs or wants the same kind of group. My needs changed with my experience. My advice is to avoid the ones that aren’t serving your needs and to seek out ones that do. And if you are very, very lucky, you find a Master Class.

If you are interested in serious conversations and information on craft, come and hang out with me at Story Building Blocks on Facebook.

Next week, we will take a serious look at how to find your "writing tribe."

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