By Deborah Sharp
Author of the Mace Bauer Mysteries
On my long and winding road to becoming a novelist, I test-drove a lot of writing groups. Some were too fast; some were too slow. Some chug-chugged along until they -- or I -- ran out of gas. I spent less time choosing a husband than I did trying to find the perfect group of fellow writers.
Was it just me, or do all writers have a hard time finding a critique group that fits? The formula should be fairly straight-forward. Get together a handful of folks with similar sensibilities and comparable writing skills. Mix well; share what you write; and hope for mutual improvement.
I did finally find a great group. But I landed in plenty of ditches before I arrived there. I remember one night early on, trying to concentrate as a fellow aspiring writer read aloud the chapter she'd labored over. In a heavy Russian accent, she droned on and on about life in the former Soviet Union. There wasn't much food. There was a lot of snow. A LOT of snow. The more she mentioned the white stuff, the more I focused on frigid air blowing on my neck from the AC ceiling vent.
I huddled lower in my seat. My God, it's freezing in here! It's gotta be 65 degrees.
I stared at my hands. My fingers are turning blue! No, wait. I think that's an ink stain.
I looked across the room. There's an empty chair by the window. I wonder if that side is any warmer?
My obsession with the thermostat didn't bode well for the reader, or for my participation in the group. I tried several others. Like Goldilocks, I found one group too hard; another too soft. Some were too big; others too small. One was stalled at the talking-about-writing stage. It was less a critique group and more a support group for wannabes.
Me: Hi, my name is Deborah. I'm addicted to the notion I'm going to be a great writer, even though I haven't written anything to read today.
Group: Hi, Deborah!
The group I finally clicked with was led by a talented and insightful author,who guided the rest of us toward helpful critiquing and better writing. (Thanks, Joyce Sweeney!) We wrote in many genres -- mystery to young adult, poetry to humor -- but we had several things in common. Most of us already grasped the basics, so we didn't get bogged down on sentence structure, grammar, and the like. We all were eager to write, happy to read, and thoughtful when it came time to critique. Nobody pulled punches, but nobody played gotcha either.
Have you ever belonged to a critique group? What do you think makes a good one?