Tuesday, April 11, 2006

To Critique Or Not To Critique

Chris Barton at Bartography is considering getting involved with a critique group again. I had a chance at the end of February to join one. I know that lots of people find them useful, swear by them even. I've done the writers' group thing twice, though, and I can't say I found them all that terrific.

The first group I was asked to join was made up only of published children's writers, and it met once a month. The group only lasted a few months. (I think the force behind the group was a member of two critique groups, and this one petered out. Or maybe they continued meeting and just didn't tell me.) I had just had my first book published, and I was already working with an editor on my second one. I can't recall if I ever brought a manuscript to the group because I won't discuss a manuscript with anyone once I'm working with an editor, and I can't remember if I got to the point of starting something else that I could discuss with them.

I really, really enjoyed hearing about what these people were doing professionally, though. What conferences they went to, who they knew, all that kind of stuff. If the group had stayed together, I might have done some good networking through it.

I was a member of the second group for several years, off and on. I was the only published writer in this one, and we didn't limit ourselves to children's literature. I was interested in publishing adult short stories by that point, and I had a lot of them filed away that I retooled for discussion. This was in addition to whatever I was working on with an editor, because, remember, once I'm with an editor nobody sees what we're doing but the two of us.

Originally we just read aloud at the group meetings, which meant we were there for quite a while and the critiquing was sort of haphazard because it was all first impressions. We also met every week for a long time. Every week is a lot.
I got some very good feedback from some of these people, but nothing that resulted in published work.

We finally started meeting twice a month and bringing manuscripts to distribute, read at home, and then comment on at the next meeting. That meant I was spending a couple of hours of work time reading other peoples' manuscripts and then a couple of hours at the meeting. That's the equivalent of more than half a day every two weeks. And I still wasn't getting anything published.

My work habits just aren't that terrific that I can afford to spend that much time on something that wasn't getting results. So I finally quit.

I did make one friend there who I'm still seeing. And, interestingly enough, even as we speak I have a short story out at an on-line journal right now that was extensively revised after getting feedback from a guy who came to only one meeting. (He was really good.)

When I read about writers who are part of critique groups, I'm always a little envious. At first. Then I remember that they just didn't work for me.

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