Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My Writing Group

Critiquing Rule

(Why, yes, I do think you'll be seeing more InkyGirl comics on my blog in the future, why do you ask?)

So, I mentioned yesterday that I had to read 50 pages of manuscript for my writers' group (yes, I did get it done on time), and one commenter expressed surprise at the volume of reading to be done, so I thought that today I would give a little summary of how my writing group functions, and how we found each other.

First of all, those 50 pages were in fact closer to 75 pages, but I shrunk the margins and spacing to save on printing costs. (I can't believe I'm running out of ink again.) This is because our group meets once a month, and reviews up to 100 pages of writing at a time. Originally, we thought that we might have a session split up between multiple authors (two writers with 50 pages each, for example) but so far it has been a one-session-per-author critique group. And it's working quite well.

There are no limitations on what kind of writing each person wants to present to the group. Most of us are working on novels, but we also have a memoirist, and someone recently submitted 5 short stories for us to consider, because she wanted help picking which ones she should submit to an MFA program.

There are no rules about how polished the work has to be in order to be submitted. I was basically done when I submitted my pages, and I was looking for assistance with my final polish. But yesterday we had someone who was in the very early stages of the work, who wanted creative feedback and guidance with character before he'd committed too much to paper. (Personally, I think that's extremely brave, and I hope he walked out of our session feeling encouraged and inspired.)

We call ourselves the Upton Street Writers... we were supposed to be named after the street where we host most of our meetings, but it turns out that we screwed up and got the address wrong. There is no Upton Street. But it sounded even better than the name of the real street, and we decided not to fix our mistake. Upton Street Writers. Dig it.

And how did we meet? The founding members of the Upton Street Writers were students in a local Novel Development Workshop. We were very lucky -- all of us were of a similar skill set and a similar state of mind. There was no one with irreparably bad grammar and delusions of grandeur, no one who thought s/he was finished learning, no one who felt the need to dominate every discussion. (I think we were assisted by the fact that the course required all of us to have a novel in progress, so that even those students who had very few pages to start out with were nevertheless quite serious about the endeavor.)

So we stuck together. We've lost a couple members when they moved out of the city for work/school obligations, but we've brought in replacement members who have been "vetted" by original members. Our original group was 9 people, and I don't think we'll ever want to go over 10-12, lest we lose our cozy vibe.

I now open the floor for questions and comments. Anything you want to know about my current writing group? Do you have a group yourself? If so, how many people are there, how often do you meet, how much material do you review at one time, and how did you find each other? Have you ever been in a particularly good or bad writing group? Tell us all about it!

(To see the original comic, complete with punch line, go to InkyGirl.com. And please also note how nicely I've coordinated these lemmings with yesterday's hamster.)


  1. Great post. I always love hearing how groups get together. I had two contests on my blog to find the five members to make my romance critique group. We're all over the US and Canada, so we only meet online.

    Lynnette Labelle

  2. I've been part of an online group in the past, but it became too much to keep up with all the critiquing. I recently joined an in-person writing group that I found via Meetup.com. Everyone is at different stages in their writing journey and writes in very different styles. I'm still new and the group itself is still trying to find itself. So, it's hard to say if it will be helpful for me or not. Sometimes just the interaction with other oddballs like me is enough. We don't have any take home readings which is nice. We just share about a couple of pages of what we are working on at the group. So, no full critiques. We do occasionally have assignments/challenges. For the next one we have to write something from the point of view of a child.

  3. It sounds like you have a great group! I haven't connected with one yet although it's been in the back of my mind.

  4. I've never been part of a writing group. I like Lynette's idea, though. Maybe I'll give that a shot...

    Here's my question: What is the greatest advantage you receive from being in the group? I'll take my answer off the air, thank you.;-)

  5. Oh man that writers group sounds so fun! It is set up a lot like a creative writing class I took with my husband and older brother, but without the old lady nitpicking spelling and punctuation during her comment turn (we give backed marked comments, can you be more general?) and the idiot that, although very inspiring, wanted anybody that wrote about women being victims to be brutally slaughtered and be insanely detailed and accurate in gun types... nobody but him knows or cares.
    You are so lucky to have such a cool writer's group.

  6. My writing group provides:

    1) Encouragement and support from fellow writers
    2) A monthly reminder that I should be writing
    3) Intellectually stimulating discussions about the craft of writing
    4) Fun reading of a work-in-progress
    5) A reader's eye view of submitted works: I get to find out what works and what doesn't, what people agree or disagree about, what people "take away" from the work as a whole.

    Although #5 is often the reason why people want to join a crit group, #1-4 are why it's worth staying in a regular group rather than just paying for an editor's feedback or taking a single class. And all this leads me to my top reason for being in this group:

    6) Thinking critically about other people's work makes me a better writer.

    When you talk about what works or doesn't work in someone's dialogue, it makes you think about what works or doesn't work in your own. Discussing themes in someone else's novel makes you think about what themes are important to you, and whether they're shining in your own work. It keeps you more intellectually sharp than just typing at the computer does by itself.

    Plus, we had salad, cheese & crackers, and Swedish Fish! Yum.

    And yes, I'm SO lucky that we had such a cool group of students, which is why we all realized that we couldn't just disband after our 8 sessions were over...

  7. I wish I could be part of such a group! I have so much to learn and need a lot of help!

  8. Your writers group sounds fantastic (and Upton Street Writers sounds so cool you could just about be a crime fighting team on the side). Online groups are great, but nothing beats sitting down for a coffee

  9. Sounds like a good system. I just have a critique partner and a writing mentor. My crit buddy and I swap pages as we get through them. It's an excellent system for us. We email all the time and talk on the phone. We're friend/critique partners - which has been awesome blossom (Michael Scott style). My mentor guides me and offers advice/critiques whenever I need the help. She's super fantabulous. :)

  10. Lemmings and a hamster... I love it. and I love the cartoons. Okay, no I've said that, on to your questions. I don't have a writing group yet. I have joined a very new on line group that is not off the ground so as to speak. I am not sure how that will go. It is really hard when there are writers whose work you think really needs a lot of work. I try very hard to be positive first and then selectively constructive in my critique. I have a critique buddy, very recently acquired through my blog actually. i am am very much enjoying her work and have finally been brave enough to send some of my own out. I always get very nervous, cause I am still not sure I have what it takes... you know how that one goes?!

  11. Just found your blog and this is great!
    I've been hankering for a writing group for a long time now, even though I already have an awesome critique partner.

    Do you have suggestions for how I might go about starting a critique group? My crit partner lives kind of far away and I'd like something more local...online groups are nice but everything on the internet is usually perceived as more negative than it actually is. I don't want to take that risk with my writing or the feedback I give others.

  12. Good question, Reesha! I'll think on it and post more on Thursday...

  13. My writing critique group also meets once a month, but instead of one person submitting 50-100 pages, everyone in the group submits one chapter. We all read each other's chapters before hand, then give both our written and verbal comments at the meeting. We are all members of a larger writing organization (Willamette Writers) and met through that group.

  14. I just recently joined an online writing group, so I'm looking forward to the experience. Sounds like you have a good system going.