Kat Jorgensen

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Critique Groups - What You Need to Know
   So you want to join a critique group?  Good for you.  But there are some things you should know before you jump in with both feet and commit to a group for the long haul - or even the short haul.

  Do you know the people in the group?  Do you respect them as writers and trust them with your work?  This is critical.  You must feel comfortable and safe in a critique relationship, not babied, but safe.  If you do not fel either comfortable or safe, do not join the group.  Or if you've joined, leave immediately.  More about leaving the group later.

If you don't know the people in the group personally, or only know some of them, make it clear to the group that you'd like to ry them out for a specified amount of time to see if you gel with the group.  Do not make the trial period too long.  One or two meetings should be ample time for you to get a good feel for the group and the type of critiques offered.  Remember, one person can change a group's dynamics.  Perhaps they'll even want  to audition you to see how you fit with their group.  This is a good thing for all concerned.  You want a great fit.

If you do try out a group and find out it's not working for you, what do you do?  If you've done a temporary try out with the group, there should be no hard feelings with anybody if you decide to leave.  But if for some reason there are bad feelings or if you didn't have a prior arrangement with the group.  How do you handle this?

I think the best way to handle any situation is with candor and honesty.  Meet with the group, if that's the way you critique, or email them if you don't meet in person.  Explain to them simply and with grace that this isn't working for you.  You don't need to go into any specific reasons.  In fact, it's best if you don't get into personalities or dynamics of the group.  The group should respect your decision.  If not, it will confirm to you that this was not the best group for you.

Let's say you've picked out a group and you've set up your time limit for your trial and the group has agreed.  What do you look for?  That depends on the kind of critique you want.  This may sound strange, but there are all kinds of critique groups.  Some offer detailed critiques that are tantamount to line edits where misspelled words are corrected, grammar is addressed, story, characters, plotting - the whole ball of wax.  If this is what you're looking for, great.

But what if you don't want that kind of detailed critique?  What if it messes with your creativity?  Maybe what you need is a group that will give you the big picture or help you with plotting issues. Or maybe you'd be happier and more productive with a brainstorming group. 

Whatever type of group you want, make sure your desires are known when you check out groups.

If you're a big picture person stuck in a group that's examining every comma, you're going to be miserable.  You're also not going to be giving the rest of the group the type of critiques they want.  Likewise, if you're in a big picture group but want a detailed critique, you're not going to be in the right group either.  So pick carefully based on your level of need.

Another thing to consider is the expertise of the group members.  Has the group been together for awhile and are all of the members on about the same level?  If you're just starting out, your lack of expertise may cause you to not fit in with the group.  That's okay.  This group wasn't for you.  Not now.  But you may be a good fit at a later date.  Or maybe you discover the group is not as advanced as you're are and you're getting feedback that isn't helpful to you. Again, this isn't a good fit and you'll need to continue looking.

I think it's best to seek out a group of people who are relatively on the same level as you are.  Or a level or two up or down from where you are in your writing life.  Too much disparity in levels could cause resentment from some members.  Remember everyone who belongs to the group has their level of expectations on what they expect from the group.  Each member should profit from membership in the group.

If you're a member of a group just forming, that's great.  But remember, it still might not work out for you for some of the reasons I've already mentioned such as expectations, expertise, etc. 

But if you're with a group who wants what you want out of a critique group, are on about the same level as you're on and get along great, maybe you're found your group. 

Your group may be a work in progress, just like your writing.  We all learn and grow at different rates - including groups.

When you find a group that works for you, you'll want to treasure it and guard it.  Be kind to the others in the group.  Show your appreciation for their help.  Hold up your end of the bargain.  Be a cheerful giver as well as a receiver.

Best of luck in finding a critique group that is perfect for you.

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