If you're reading this, you probably already know that the online writing community is a wonderfully supportive one. Pretty much all of us at the YA Highway met online before we ever met in person, and most of us have other cherished beta readers, cheerleaders, and virtual shoulders to cry on who live many many miles away. But I'm also part of an in-person critique group, which is a completely different type of writer-to-writer interaction. It's also one which I've found to be invaluable over the past few years.
First off, I should say that I'm fairly shy and jumping into an established critique group or starting my own might have been a real challenge for me. But I was fortunate enough to meet local author Corrine Jackson at an SCBWI conference in the summer of 2010. At the time, Corrine wanted to start a crit group and invited me and a few other writers to join. Since then we've had a core group of members, mostly MG and YA writers, who have met every other week for almost three years now, to talk writing, reading, and all things publishing. A few things that have made this group a success:
1. Structure. Thanks to our awesome leader, we have guidelines in place for giving and receiving feedback; time limits for discussion; expectations for participation; guidelines for not being defensive or arguing and for offering both praise and criticism.
2. Flexibility. Despite all of the rules and structure, we're willing to change things on the fly and go with flow.
3. Everyone can submit work. We allow everyone to submit a chapter for each meeting (rather than rotating who submits and focusing on longer work). There are obviously pros and cons to this choice, but it's one that has worked for us. People write on different schedules and this allows us to submit work when we need the feedback and to not feel pressured when we aren't ready for feedback.
4. Everyone critiques. We have an agreement that everyone shows up and critiques, even if they haven't submitted a chapter for that meeting.
5. Authenticity and respect. I think we've all done a good job fostering a sense of authenticity in our dynamic. We're not afraid to try new things and to make mistakes because there is a sense of safety among the group members.We're also not afraid to challenge each and push each other.
6. Celebrating the milestones. As writers we all have our own individual goals: when personal milestones are met, we celebrate with each other. Ritual and reflection are important to our process and our sense of community. We also have a lot of fun together.
What about you? Do you participate in an in-person critique group? Do you have any tips for success that have worked for your group?