Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Writing Groups

My writing group meets for breakfast at a local café that bills itself as a French bistro.

I usually have crepes, although I’ve been known to order the Belgian waffle with fruit and whipped cream. The coffee is excellent. I look forward to my luxury breakfast quite as much as I look forward to meeting with the group.

We schedule our meetings for a Saturday each month, trying to keep an eye on other events in town, like the bike week sponsored by the local Harley Davidson dealership and antiques street market days, when parking will be scarce and restaurant tables at a premium. Usually our occupying a big table in the back for several hours is not a problem, and of course we tip generously. We have also presented the owner with copies of our books.

Our group is small. While several people have come and gone over the last few years, we have a core group of four. We don’t advertise, but each of us has brought guests at one time or another.

We are kind in our criticisms, although we are very aware that the purpose of the group is not to hold a
mutual admiration session, but to give constructive criticism.Thus one will never hear, "That's a terrible story," but may hear, "That didn't work for me because..."

I think the blunt commentary on our work is one of the reasons we have had several potential members decide we are not the group for them.

Each of us brings a selection for the group to read, with a copy for each person. We aim at about 5 pages,

but are very flexible, especially if someone has an entire story or chapter completed and wants commentary on the entire thing. Occasionally someone will have had a busy month and doesn’t bring anything to present. Because the group is small, we can go into the selections in depth. Once in a while, we will exchange manuscripts by email prior to the meeting.

Especially helpful is the variety of backgrounds and interests we bring to the group. One member is a former newspaper editor. I think we all treasure her red pen, and hurry home to look at the items she has marked. I know I do. We don’t necessarily discuss every minor correction, but she picks up so many minor errors and awkward statements that our manuscripts come out much improved. She is our bestselling author, with a couple of science fiction books and one on Civil War ghosts.

One member is a church secretary with a macabre sense of humor and an excellent eye for both story line and presenting the unexpected. She specializes in short stories with wonderful character development and a growing sense of dread, which is always justified in the end.

Our lawyer member is working on a spy novel set in the 1970’s in China and the US. Since I write a crime series, I find it especially useful to have a lawyer who is willing to answer my legal questions.
I haven’t quite figured out if I have any special attributes to contribute to the group, but we all.

We have decided to write an anthology together, each contributing one story, and e-publish it. We have a cover, and are meeting on Saturday to finalize our edits and discuss any problems or changes that have arisen. It’s a Halloween anthology, and we are aiming at an early October release date. I’m anxious to see the almost-finished product. And have my wonderful crepes.

Are you a member of a writing group? Has it been helpful to you, and would you recommend it to others?


  1. Without critique groups I would never have learned to write sufficiently well to be published. We used different rules than your group, but the main thing is to find something that works for you. I currently do not belong to any critique groups.

    ~ Jim

  2. I'm in a short story critique group, which has helped my writing tremendously. But on novels, I'm not sold on critique groups. I think beta readers are better because they can evaluate the entire book, not just portions. Critique groups move too slowly to be practical for me. I prefer to hire an editor for a concept read. After I've revised, then beta readers to evaluate plot, my execution, and to catch grammar and punctuation mistakes.

  3. I have been in excellent critique groups. One former member is a great editor.

  4. I love crit groups. I love celebrating successes and commiserating when one of us gets bad news. It is a challenge with novels, though!

  5. I'm in a writing group that I love, but we all write different genres with poetry being the most often presented, as well as essays. I don't share chapters of my book with them because like E.B. said, they wouldn't get the whole picture of the book. However, one of the group is my beta reader.

  6. Beta readers are another step in the process, and they are particularly important for long works, like novels.

    I bring both short stories and parts of my novels to the group. With the novels, I bring in parts I have questions about, esp. to seek another perspective. My first statement is often, "Does this work at all? Would it work with changes? Or should I abandon this particular scene entirely?"

    Of course we don't meet often enough for any of us to bring everything, so we present our difficult parts and questions to each other.

    I don't usually hit an editor until a last step. Hiring one earlier for a concept read & plot consistency might be helpful.

    We're getting excited about our Halloween project and there's some talk about doing a Christmas anthology, too.

  7. What a wonderful group of writers, KM. Your Halloween anthology sounds fun.

    I enjoy my short story critique group. I cringe when I submit a story, but their edits and suggestions make it stronger.

    Enjoy your crepes!

  8. I don't really have a formal crit group, though I do share a few critique partners with my other critique partners. So, in a way, we're a critique group, in that we're all sending stuff to each other. But I really do wish we could meet up for coffee and crepes!

  9. I don't know what it is about posting a blog, but it seems like it inevitably makes my electricity go out.

    No different yesterday. We had a big storm in the afternoon and evening, and of course lost power.

    I understand, though, that other areas had major flooding, so I suppose I shouldn't complain.

    Thanks for your comments!