Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Thinking about Critique Groups

If you’re in a group and you’re at a standstill, step back and look at the big picture. Are you focusing too much on the so-called writing rules? Are you reading nearly exclusively in the same genre? Have you broadened your horizons and tried something new? Is the group as a whole pushing themselves to be better? Have you had that defining moment when you realized your group is holding you back?

Originally posted at Writeminded by Jan Kenny

Jan's post made me think. Is OAWC helping or hindering me? Is RWA helping or hindering me?

Is OAWC helping or hindering me? Helping, definitely. I write more because I know that when I'm ready, I have people I can trust to share it with. I might not always agree with the answer I'm given. Either it doesn't fit with what I know is right for me, the piece or the genre. Just as often, I'm given an answer that blows me out of the water because it is so damn right.

At the same time, I'm not sure that we are as tough as we should be. Too often I am distracted by grammatical corrections, changes that change the author's voice, or people that dominate discussion. I know I'm guilty of each and everyone of those things (that's how I know that they are problems.) Sometimes, though, I wish the critique was tougher. That the person knew my genre better. That we had more time to talk about publishers, agents, and the state of the market.

Part of the reason that we don't is because none of us write for the same market. It's a mixed bag of blessings. I like it because when defending something that is "common in the genre," I really have to defend it. It doesn't just slide by. I need to be an expert in my field.

But it also means I get to play devil's advocate when someone isn't writing in my genre, but includes elements of it. My favorite question is "What does your sex scene do, besides titillate and entertain?" I can feel my cheeks burn as I ask it, but it needs to be asked, if it isn't clear.

Having the group makes me accountable. We have an off-shoot now, called the Chocolate Cake club. Members meeting a designated goal have the option of meeting for cake. I love cake.

I've learned from these people, who read my pieces, lending their time and knowledge to point out weaknesses and present potential solutions. I can only hope my comments do the same.

Our strength, I believe, lies in acknowledging of our differences. Making my living by my writing is my ultimate goal. I'd love to leave my day job and be a mid-list author. The big dream is having the breakout novel that puts my name in everyone's mouth. But I respect those who want to leave their memories behind, whether they are prose or poetry. When I offer advice, I try to keep their goal in mind, not mine. Their genre concerns, not mine.

I admire the Writeminded group, who posed the original question. Five women decided that they wanted to take their writing to the next level. To earn contracts. To be published. The road has been bumpy, but they've stuck together.

Our group is always open. Not everyone stays. But the regulars, and those that will become regulars, are becoming the kind of group that Writeminded started as. It gives me great hope that we are headed in the right direction.

I must confess that the jury is still out on RWA. I had some really high expectations going into the national organization, based on what I had found with OAWC. Maybe I set myself up. Maybe I live in a fringe area, rather than in the heart of a group. But I find myself passing up RWA related events in favor of OAWC.

Within the national organization, I have connected with some fantastic individuals. They keep me going, answer my questions and offer their experiences to the organization as a whole. I admire what RWA has accomplished for the romance genre and all of its sub genres. I need to find the individuals to connect with that will make it the experience I was expecting from the get-go.

Thanks, ladies, for helping find it.

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