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Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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Critique Groups

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 21, 2016

Thanks to a post by author Terry Odell, I am turning back the clock to my early blogging days. It’s incredible to realize I’ve been blogging for over ten years. I didn’t start out on WordPress and converted my site somewhere along the way. Fortunately, I save all my posts in Word. My very first topic was on Critique Groups. Believe it or not, much of the same advice applies today. Here’s what I said back then:

CRITIQUE GROUPS (August 2005)

Yesterday I went to critique group. Including myself, this consists of six authors, most of us published or agented. We meet every other week and rotate houses. While eating a sumptuous brunch, we discuss publishing news, share personal insights, and encourage each other to keep writing through the ups and downs of our careers. I can’t tell you how invaluable this group has been to me. I could not have achieved what I have without them.

After exchanging news, we get down to work. We read each other’s manuscripts silently for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, passing the pages around the table, until all of us have been read. Then we share our comments aloud, focusing on one person at a time. We do not do line editing. Mostly we focus on character development, emotional reactions, dialogue, plot consistency, and so forth. For example, when my sleuth Marla asked a suspect outright if he might have killed the victim, one of my critique partners said this was too blunt. So this morning, I toned down Marla’s response in my WIP (work in progress). We catch typos, point out clichés, and suggest ways to restructure for more impact. But more importantly, we’re there for each other to gripe, to cheer, to support, and to listen.

I wrote an article for Romantic Times Magazine [now RT Book Reviews] on how to set up a critique group. Here’s an excerpt with seven tips for getting started:

1. To find other interested writers, join a local writers group and put a notice in their newsletter that you are looking for critique partners.
2. Limit your group to six members or less.
3. Seek friends with compatible personalities and a similar writing level.
4. The focus of your meetings should be on critiquing content, not line editing. Consider holding a separate meeting on occasion just for brainstorming plot ideas.
5. Determine a procedure for your group that is agreeable to everyone. Some groups read aloud, others pass pages around the table and read silently, and still others e-mail chapters ahead of time. It’s up to you how you want to run your show.
6. Offer constructive criticism. If you see the need for change, make suggestions for improvements in a positive manner. Don’t forget to give praise where it’s due.
7. Have fun! Enjoy refreshments and spend time chatting about the industry. Being sociable will draw you closer together and enable you to accept advice more readily.

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My current group has six members, most of whom were around back then. See how long we’ve known each other? These are steadfast friends, and they understand me on a level better than most people. We share common needs and goals and understand the foibles of the business. We’re also pros at our jobs, producing a constant stream of material, attending conferences, and supporting each other via social media. When you find a good critique group, it’s like discovering gold. Treasure your partnerships.

Critique GroupcritiqueCritique2014critque Dec09

In these photos, besides myself, are Zelda Benjamin, Sharon Hartley, Alyssa Maxwell, Kat Carlton, and Cynthia Thomason. We do like to eat!

CritiqueJan12 (800x600)CritiqueTableKaren Table

Do you belong to a critique group? If so, what is your process?

 

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8 Responses to “Critique Groups”

  1. Where I live, it’s on line rather than live. I have a small (3 of us) critique group. We formed a Yahoo group and email chapters whenever they’re ready for critiquing. We’re varied in genre and background, which helps bring different perspectives to the manuscript. We’ve been together for at least 3-5 books per author. We’re comfortable and don’t need a lot of ‘touchy-feelie’ comments. We need to know where things don’t work, and don’t take offense (although we do discuss things)

    • An online group is a very viable alternative if you’re in a location that doesn’t have a lot of other writers or is remote. Glad this works for you, Terry. Good critique partners are to be valued.

  2. I don’t know what I would have done without our group. Probably would have stopped writing years ago. The camaraderie and emotional support is as important as the feedback on the writing. Yes, more valuable than gold for sure!

  3. Dorothy Miller said

    What a wonderful blog

  4. You are fortunate to have a solid critique group. I live in a remote area and must settle for online critique partners. It works, but I miss the camaraderie of a local group. I do have a local group of writer friends, but they didn’t work well as a critique group and most have retired from writing. 😦

    • I would miss our bimonthly meetings terribly if I moved away. If you have online partners, that can work as well. You’ll just have to attend conferences to get the in-person company.

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