Monday, September 28, 2015

Critique Groups

Today I'm talking about critique groups. A funny thing happened on the way to the, no, actually it was in an email. ( Apologies to whoever the Greek God was who made that statement.) A friend asked me, "Why are you looking for a critique group? You are published. Four times published. What could a critique group tell you about writing that you don't already know?"

Ahem. Obviously, said friend is not a writer. I do not know everything there is to know about writing. Although...I do know a couple of people who are published and do think they know everything. Their books belie their knowledge.
On the other hand, my manuscripts are far from perfect. No matter how many times I edit and revise, they are far from perfect. If they were perfect, I wouldn't need to have them edited by an editor with my publisher, now would I?

 In 2008, I started a group myself. It was an online group, with seven other women writers who were spread all over the US, and one was in South Africa. We all worked really well together, although over time several dropped out and we replaced them with other writers. Then, last year I was really busy with my own editing, as well as some problems with the publisher I was with at that time, so I withdrew from my own group. It was time, for several reasons.

So now, I'm looking for a new group. So far, I've been invited to two new groups. One was about 5 weeks ago, and was pretty much a disaster. We met at Starbuck's for an hour, which was their habit, and it was fun to get to know a little about these 4 people. Then we went over to the library for the real meeting. Critiques? Well...I suppose you could call them that, with a little bit of imagination. Or maybe a LOT of imagination.

One lady to another lady: "Oh, I just love this story. You have so many wonderful metaphors mixed in it, like this one about the octopus and the congealed dancers. That is just so good!!!"
Say what? 'Octopus and congealed dancers?' Hmm...if you know anything about me, you have a pretty good idea of what I said in response.

Then there was the young girl who used the F-word in every sentence, no matter how benign the rest of the sentence was. When I told her editors probably would not like that at all, since there was no real reason for using that word so much, she politely shook her head, and said, "Well, that's the way this character talks, so it will be fine." Ohhhkay. That was only one of the ways she expressed her displeasure with my critique as we went along. That one pretty much didn't go so well.

Actually, none of them went well. These people did not want to be critiqued on plot, characterization, development of internal/external conflict, ( the lone man asked what I meant by internal conflict), dialogue...well, you get the picture. No one wanted to be told he or she needed work on anything. So, no more of that group.

The next group I was invited to met at one of the ladies' homes. Before I went, I sent them each a long email in which I told them a little about myself, and my writing and publishing history. Then I listed the 10 elements of writing that I critiqued on: plot, characterizations, etc. etc. etc. I wanted them to know ahead of time what I would be looking for, and commenting on. I figured I was giving them enough time to read it, think about their own writing, and then see if they still wanted me to come to the meeting. Apparently, they did, so I went.

Hmm...well, the same young girl with the F-word vocabulary was also there, but she had cleaned up the pages she wanted looked over. There was one youngish man, with kids he had to pick up from school in 2 hours...a single father?...don't know that for sure. The other lady ( yes, with me there are only 4, and that's not a good number for a critique group) had a story of 19 pages so far, and 9 1/2 of those were nothing but narration. No dialogue, no action, no nothing except "telling." When I mentioned that, as tactfully as possible, she told me that she had sent this story in to a contest with 4 agents as the judges, and none of the agents had anything to say about "telling." Obviously, none of the agents was an editor...or maybe not even agents? Anyway, neither this lady nor the gentleman nor the young lady had even the slightest notion what the concept of "show, don't tell" meant.

So now I am faced with a dilemma. I can continue to go back to this group, and spend my 2 1/2 hours with them twice a month trying to TEACH them how to write, and get little or nothing in return, as far as their "critiques" go, or I can once again go on the prowl for a new group.

My problem is: where do I look? I belong to the only writers/authors organization in my entire county...which is very small...and these are two of the groups that are touted on their website. So my choices are very limited.

What do you think at this point in your writing/publishing life about critique groups? Do you think you are beyond them? The major problem I have is that while I believe I can do better with having a group, I can't do better if the people there don't have the same level of expertise I have, or better yet, are above my level.  So far, these groups are far below me, and while that sounds very egotistical, it isn't. People who don't know how to use metaphors, and who don't know what the basic concept of "show don't tell" means, are not going to be of any help to me.
And I don't have the time to babysit them. I don't mean that to be harsh, it's just the way it is. Or as the kids say today...It is what it is.

Well, I'm still looking, and not holding out much hope. Most of the other groups in this organization are held 35 or more miles from me, and that's just too far. Maybe I'll try to form an online group again, but frankly, the idea of a face-to-face, one-on-one group really intrigues me, so I guess I'll just keep looking.

Are you in a critique group? If not, why not?

Think about it.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.