Online Critique Groups
There's a terrific article in the February, 2003 Writer's Digest. I'm sure many of you already subscribe to or buy this magazine, but if you don't, allow me to recommend it to you. Every month, it's full of helpful tips, ideas and articles on writing. I've been getting it for years and have always found numerous things in every edition to help me in my writing. -Kathi
* * *
The article is called Find the Right Online Critique Group For You! by Kate Reynolds.
The article talks about the pros and cons of online groups, things to keep in mind when submitting and critiquing, and how to choose the right group for you. From the criteria in this article, W2P qualifies as a good one by their standards, at least in my opinion.
The pros include allowing flexible schedules for the work involved and being free from the constraints of places that don't have readily accessible groups. There is also the benefit of getting near-instantaneous feedback instead of having to wait for the next face to face group meeting. You also get a broad range of responses that will help sharpen your writing skills. You get critiquers who focus on special skills like grammar and syntax while others will suggest ways to improve structure, plotting and characterization. Seasoned writers are usually generous with hints and tips. Beginners receive guidance that speeds the learning process. One caution is not to rely strictly on the group in learning the craft, but to incorporate the critique group with other learning tools such as books on the craft of writing and coursework.
Some disadvantages are the quality of the feedback can be spotty, with expert advice mixed in with mere fluff, but over time you will learn to recognize who offers help and who hinders. An unfair, rude or downright mean critique can shake your confidence and resolve. Tough advice helps, but rudeness can do real damage. She warns not to be fooled into thinking that everyone who sounds authoritative knows what they're talking about. Use what seems right and forget the rest. The bottom line is that it's your work and your choice in whose advice to take. There is the very real danger of plagiarism and thievery. She warns against keeping online archives of submitted work since they can be vulnerable to literary predators, although the act of submitting your work to the group can actually benefit your copyright protection since it fixes your creation date to a finite time. You should check for rules that protect confidentiality before you submit work (Paul has all our names and addresses, in addition to records of submissions, so that alone will help protect us in the event of someone trying to claim work that is not their own.) She recommends finding a group that insists on participation and doesn't allow lurkers. High-quality groups have participation requirements.
You can judge the effectiveness of a group by observing the level of professionalism before submitting your own work. Are the submissions high-quality? Are the critiques appropriate? Do members offer meaningful feedback, including reasons for their suggestions? Do they give praise for what is done well?
When submitting work, make sure you only submit your best efforts. Critters don't like to be used as proofreaders, that's your job as a writer. This can also lessen the amount of feedback you get on subsequent submissions. Develop a thick skin. If you get a harsh critique or one that is just plain wrong, it's best to set it aside until you're ready to recover, regroup and respond. But don't conclude that a tough critique is necessarily bad. More often than not, harsh advice will help you strengthen your writing muscle, while hollow compliments help no one. Keep an open mind with all critiques and thank the person who spent time helping you. They're critiquing your work, not you. You'll publish faster if you check your ego at the keyboard. Value honest feedback. You have to help others in return and a meticulous writer works as hard on crits as s/he does on their own submissions, because critiquing someone else's work strengthens your own self-editing skills.
It's important to find a group you're comfortable in, that offers constructive, knowledgable advice in a positive way. Don't be afraid to leave a group that isn't working for you. You may be in the wrong group if you're giving more value than you're getting, if members aren't receptive to newcomers or if the crits lack substance. You're in the wrong group if members turn in writing so bad you cringe or if nobody understands your genre or if you disagree with most of the crits. You're in the right group if your work takes a leap in quality, that people in the group have become dear friends, when another member sends a heartfelt thank-you note for your critique. Lastly, you must all cheer for each other's successes.