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Five Considerations before Joining a Crit Group
by Terry W. Ervin II

  

One of the more useful activities a writer employ to improve his work is to participate in a writing critique group.  While active participation in a crit group (whether online or in person) takes time, the payoff can be well worth the effort—if it is the right crit group.

Below are five areas to consider before taking the plunge and joining a crit group.

1.  Motivated Writers

Being around other writers can be infectious, but if one is going to spend time with a group of writers for support, insight, and advice, the focus should be the discussion of writing produced by group members.  The writers in a crit group should have goals, and each member should be actively working to achieve those goals.  A goal may be as simple as finishing a novel by a certain date, or achieving the submission of three short stories for publication by the New Year.   

A crit group is not a social club. While friendships may form, the main focus of the group should be on writing.  This may include networking, discussions on market trends, and sharing research in addition to reading and critiquing writing submitted by members for evaluation.  Keeping the atmosphere professional and on track will promote what the group was formed for in the first place—to improve writing and achieve goals.  A professional, writing focused, goal oriented structure also makes it easier to dismiss a member for failing to live up to group expectations.

2.  Minimum Requirements

A crit group should have established minimum requirements for participation.  Clear guidelines (some would call rules) regarding submissions for member evaluation and guidelines for critiques are essential.  Doing so reduces misunderstandings and hard feelings.  Guidelines should be structured to keep every member an active participant as well restricting one or two writers from dominating the time and effort of the group.  The rules must be enforced, including a mechanism for removing members that fail to meet the established guidelines.  A method to alter or amend the guidelines should be included when the group forms.  As any longstanding group will have some turnover, a clear procedure for adding new members is important as well.

3.  At the Same Level

While it may initially appear a blessing for an aspiring writer to be among a group of accomplished pros, the disparity in writing ability will become a barrier for success.  How much will the aspiring writer be able to constructively contribute?  What weight will the aspiring writer’s input carry?  A crit group should be a benefit to all members.   Will the pro writers become bored with the aspiring writer’s efforts and frustrated at the time it takes to critique writing far below their current ability?  Such disparity can lead to discontent among members, disrupting the effectiveness of the group.

This is not to say that varying levels cannot work.  If the less experienced writers submit stimulating and interesting work and are quick learners, and if the more experienced writers are able to garner useful insight from the less experienced members, it could work.  These, however, are major ifs.

4.  Good Mixture

Strong crit groups have well read participants with a range of experiences and opinions. This variety of views and input is invaluable to a writer.  Some things like punctuation, clear antecedents, internal consistency, and proper dialogue tags are straight forward.  A writer can read his work a dozen times and still overlook these things.  Other areas such as pace, plot structure, and characterization are more subjective.  It is up to the writer as to which suggestions and modifications they will implement.

While some writers work in pairs with a single dedicated critique partner, a crit group can be more valuable due to its broader range of experience and input.

5.  Interest Writing

One thing that should not be overlooked by a writer interested in a crit group is that the works of the other writers must be of interest to him.  While the writing itself may be good, there is little worse than having to read and carefully analyze something that totally disinterests the reader.  A reader who favors hard science fiction may have trouble working through a classic whodunit mystery or a steamy romance.

Many crit groups are genre focused in an effort to avoid this issue.  They may consist of only fantasy, science fiction, mystery, horror, or romance writers.  A writer who works in multiple genres, or writes stories that are not solidly in one genre, may have some concerns. But, in general, good writing that contains elements of a crit group’s specific genre focus is welcome.

***

A writer may argue that lists of rules are not necessary.  They inhibit creativity and the free flow of ideas. They are tools which an unhappy member can use to bludgeon other members over the head.  In reality, well-crafted guidelines will insure a fair, stable, and smooth running group.  If members continually reference a guideline infraction, either it was an ill-conceived rule in need of modification or they have a legitimate point.

Copyright Terry W. Ervin II. All rights reserved.

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Terry W. Ervin II is an English teacher who enjoys writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. He is a frequent contributor to Fiction Factor and his fiction has appeared a number of places, including The Sword Review, Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and MindFlights.

When Terry isn’t writing or enjoying time with his family, he can be found in his basement raising turtles. To contact Terry or to learn more about his writing endeavors and recommended markets (among other things), visit his website at:
http://www.ervin-author.com

 

 










   
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