Writers Groups – Critiquing Methods – Read ’em and Weep

You want readers familiar with your work, you don’t want critiquers familiar with your work

I previously discussed The 20 Page Whack critiquing method. This time I’ll focus on a critiquing method wherein one person reads a piece and then others, who haven’t read it previously nor read along as it’s being read, critique it.

Finding a critique group that’s good for you is based on one question:

What is your goal/reason for being in a critique’ group?

I answered this question as it pertains to myself in Writers’ Groups – Introduction and The 20 Page Whack; improve my storytelling and storycrafting/increase my skill levels/learn my craft.

As mentioned previously, I’m discussing critiquing groups that meet monthly and of course, I’m discussing methodologies I’ve experienced.

Someone reads a piece and people critique it after it’s read. Nobody sees the material before it’s read.
Strong suggestion up front; Attend a few of these meetings before you read your work to them.

This format works best (my opinion) if you write in a variety of styles and a variety of genres, meaning you can mix up what you present to the group. Otherwise, participants get to know you, your style and genre and that’s going to prejudice them pro or con to your work. After a few sessions presenting your work (most) participants have difficulty separating you from your work and that inability is demonstrated in their comments.

Most obviously, if someone decides to dislike you they’ll dislike your work. If someone likes you, they’ll be forgiving regarding your work.

Me, I don’t want forgiving. I want cutthroat ruthless from people who like me (I’ll take cutthroat ruthless from people who don’t like me, it makes follow-up discussions a bit difficult, though). Cutthroat ruthless is easy from people who dislike you but dislike-based cutthroat ruthlessivity tends to be personal and that’s not productive. I’ve seen dislike-based cutthroat ruthlessivity get down to scenes reminiscent of namecalling on schoolyard playgrounds. They’re uncomfortable for everyone involved and can be wounding at their worst.

There’s also challenges if people like your stuff. Especially if people like your work.

Say someone likes killer endings and knows you write killer endings. Chances are they’ll let things slip because they’re waiting for the killer ending. Maybe you’re dynamite at character and people get so involved in your character development they miss plot holes or continuity errors. Perhaps your gift is scene and listeners/readers are overwhelmed by your scenes to the loss of picking up dialogue errors.

Congrats, you’ve found your audience!

But you haven’t found people who can critique your work.

Another challenge is that this method requires participants to listen, pay attention and either document what they believe needs work (because nobody stops reading until they’re finished. No interruptions allowed) or have amazing memories. So…

  1. Don’t partake in these groups if they meet in noisy environments.
  2. Make sure mobiles are turned off during the reading and critiquing.
  3. Longer pieces often get shallow reviews because people don’t document every challenge they encounter. Doing so prevents them from focusing on what’s being read (can you say “vicious cycle”?). Often they’ll comment on something that requires sections, paragraphs or sentences be reread, reread^2 and rereread (^4?).

Bottom Line
These types of workshops are good (my opinion) for the first two or three times someone presents their work. After that, the audience can become jaded and that’s not good. Worse, it’s not helpful.

I also think this style of workshop is excellent in a designated public performance setting, something where some authors/writers get together and read their work before an audience of readers (note, not an audience of writers). Readers catch things writers don’t (hence the need for first, second and third readers before you publish).

The above noted, I discourage new writers/authors from staying in these kinds of critique groups precisely because newbies may be vulnerable to the comments – however well intended – of more senior members and get locked into writing styles/habits that don’t help them improve their craft.

Experienced writers may find this format useful but not (again, my opinion) as a single source of critiques.

Next up, The Month Long Read.

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