The Write Group Embrace those crits
By Judy Adourian
The proper critique groups can offer no-nonsense writing advice and support.
I belong to three writing groups.
The first group contains five women from my local area. We meet once a month, usually on a Monday night, at a local bookstore for two hours. We also check in via e-mail weekly on Wednesday nights. On the Wednesday prior to our meeting, we electronically send the others in the group any piece of writing we want critiqued. This way each piece of writing is given the time and attention it deserves by each member. The feedback given at the face-to-face meeting is thoughtful and concise. Among us, we write personal essays, family history, short stories, and flash fiction. Once in a while, a poem will find its way into our meeting too.
The second group contains five women living in four different states. We meet weekly via the Internet on Sunday nights, but we have never all been in the same room at the same time. Within this group, we write plays, personal essays, nonfiction, self-help, historical romance, mystery, and young adult. Once in a while, a group member will email a piece of her writing to all, some, or one of the others for feedback.
The third group contains two women in two different states. This group meets via email or snail mail whenever one of us needs the eagle eye critique of the other. We have met in person twice in three years. Between us, we write plays and short stories.
I contribute different things to each group.
I formed the first group through my work as the International Women's Writing Guild's Rhode Island Representative. I am on the more experienced end of the writing spectrum compared to the other members of this group. I have taken the most workshops, taught the most workshops, and am the most published writer in the group. I am usually the first to check-in each Wednesday night; as the founder of this group I am seen as its leader. I give feedback based on my many years as a magazine editor and personal familiarity with the marketing process. I focus my feedback on one or two key elements that will help not only the current piece but also future writings by that author. I understand that the writers in this group write because they have a specific story to tell or a love of writing, which compels them to practise their craft more than dreams of publishing success.
I asked to join the second group. Three of the other members are my International Women's Writing Guild colleagues (each of us teaching workshops at the Guild's annual summer conference). I have read their past published books and taken their workshops, so I have great respect and admiration for them. More importantly, I have spent time with them and enjoy their company on a personal level. Often, I am the first to check in on a Sunday night, full of energy and enthusiasm. I bring a sense of innocence to the group because although I've received my fair share of rejections over the years, I am not in the business of writing a novel and dealing with agents and large publishing houses. The other women in this group have dealt with harder knocks amid their successes, so I see my role as cheerleader essential to the well being of the group.
I was asked to join the third group. My fellow group member once headed a theatre troupe. She's a card-carrying member of Actor's Equity and one hell of an actress. She lives in New York City and has her finger on its pulse. I provide her with the technical structure that gives her work greater power. More so, my critiques for this fellow writer involve getting down to the nitty-gritty of good writing. From beats, to sentence structure, to word choice, my red pen rides rampant on her pages – not because she can't write, but because she can. I challenge her to stretch her writing talents to new levels.
I get different things from each group.
From the first group, I get reminded of why I am a writer in the first place. In fact, just last month I felt great frustration while working on one of my personal essays. The words just didn't seem to translate onto the page the way they sounded in my head. Worse, the deadline for the piece was a mere week away. The pressure created such a block that all my normal tricks to overcome such a writing obstacle proved futile. Yet a member of this group, a novice writer who tends to practice her craft through writing exercises and is reluctant to submit her work for publication, reminded me of one simple truth, "I write because I love to write." During that Wednesday night check-in, my real writer's block became evident – I was writing for others and not for myself. Thanks to the women in this group, I keep in touch with my passion for writing, which can then shines through each piece I write.
From the second group, I receive knowledge. I am witnessing the processes gestation and birth of four novels. I read of the hours of research poured into the historical romance. I learn about inner workings of agents and publishing houses. I see the determination and conviction of writers juggling their day jobs with their passion. I have read the past publications of these women and have gained so much from hearing them discuss their processes. I have faced the hard reality that one published novel (or even four) does not mean economic security for life. I appreciate the novel writing process more than ever, which has added a new dimension to every book I read.
From the third group, I get the same no-nonsense, nit-picking critique that I give. Neither a sentence nor a word escapes her scrutiny. She marks up my manuscript with a no holds barred attitude that challenges me to put aside my pride and look beyond my ego. She knows what New York City theatres want to see and what it takes to get even a staged reading accomplished. She's got years of theatre experience to back up her insights and she's as honest as they come. She also exemplifies the phrase "not resting on your laurels," which is truly inspiring.
I belong to three different writing groups.
And I haven't shut the door on the possibility of a fourth.
Judy L. Adourian is the owner of Writeyes, a teaching, critiquing, and support network for writers of all levels. She is the Executive Editor for NEWN magazine and the Rhode Island Regional Representative for the International Women's Writing Guild. Judy has been published in four editions of A Cup Of Comfort series and in numerous magazines. She can be reached through her websitewww.writeyes.com.