MBM: Getting the Most Out of Your Critique Group

Welcome to the seventh day of March Book Madness! (If you’re new to March Book Madness, check out the explanation and schedule at the bottom of this post.)

Today my friend, Charity Bradford, is here talking about critique groups. I met Charity at a writing conference, and I love her new book, The Magic Wakes. It’s a great sci-fi novel in a vivid, exciting world. Talia is a great character.

I’ve been anxious to hear what she has to say about critique groups. My writing group has been meeting for about a year now, and I love it! We’re always looking for ideas of how to organize things. In fact, we’re meeting tonight, so this is perfect timing.

Here’s Charity.

MBM1

CHARITY BRADFORD:

When I decided to get serious about writing years ago, there was one thing I wanted more than anything else. Okay, maybe two things—to get published, obviously, and to find an amazing writers group. I mean a real life, meet at a coffee shop or library and talk about writing, publishing and critiquing our work so we could get published.

I lived in a huge city. How hard could it be to find three or four writers who wanted the same things I did?

It turned out to be near impossible.

I tried to start one in my rather large neighborhood—825 homes in the HOA. Surely there were other writers there? I published an ad in our HOA monthly newsletter to gauge interest. It sounded like a good plan at the time.

Four people responded and we picked a day and time to meet. A testing of the waters so to speak. I graciously offered my home as the place to be. *sigh* It sounded like a good plan at the time!

One of the four showed up. She was a lovely older woman who admitted she always “wanted to write something” but never got around to it. For an hour and a half she told me her life story, barely breathing for me to get a word in to direct us back to writing. I was getting desperate. Then, she asked to use my guest bathroom.

Ten minutes later the door opens and she’s calling for help. After helping her off the toilet I decided I didn’t need a writers group.

True story.

Fast forward two years. I move westward two states and fall into the best writers group in the universe. No joke.

Another author with my publisher, Tamara Heiner, lived fifteen minutes away from my new home and had started a writers group in my town. How did she do it? She went to a writer’s conference and made friends. Turns out they all lived fairly close to each other and the group was born!

This wonderful group meets every Thursday at a local frozen yogurt place in the back room. Writers take turns reading from their manuscripts out loud, and then we all talk about it. The concept is simple, and it works.

Getting the Most Out of Your Critique Group by Charity Bradford
Charity’s Writing Group

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Today I want to share my TOP THREE REASONS finding a real life writers group (as opposed to online groups) can make you a better writer.

1.  A New Meaning to Hearing Voices

I love, love, LOVE my online writer friends and critique partners. They have saved my sanity more than once, but there is something unique and magical about sitting down with living breathing people. You can’t hide behind the keyboard. You must learn to communicate verbally as well as with the written word.

The first time I attended, I read the selection from the other writers before I got to the meeting and made comments in the document. Then I listened to the person read their story the way they felt and meant it. It changed many of my comments.

We always hear, “Read your story out loud.” Some of you are probably smart enough to do that. I’m not always that bright. I know I should do it, but I feel stupid sitting at my desk reading out loud to myself. The first time I read in the group I was sweating as much as when I run. My mouth was dry and I feared I would pass out. What if they hated my writing? I learned a valuable lesson though. You really do catch more of your own mistakes when you read aloud.

2.  Two Heads Are Better Than One

Critique Groups with Charity Bradford

How many times have you been stuck at a spot in your story? You know its missing something but you aren’t sure what it is. 

Or maybe you know but you can’t figure out how to fix it.

There have been times at our group where we’ve all pulled out our laptops and started searching for things to help one of our members. Be it names or how to build a warp drive. More people coming up with ideas can save A LOT of time. And it’s way fun!

If you have a sizable group you will learn another very important lesson that will ease some post publication woes.

Everyone likes different things, has their own perspective and you’ll never be able to please everyone. And that’s okay.

You can still be friends over a dish of sea salt caramel frozen yogurt even if you didn’t “get” or like someone’s story. Being in a group makes the word “subjective” real.

3.  People to Celebrate With You

When you have successes, there are people who are genuinely happy for you.

They show up at every book signing you have. Sometimes they’re the only ones that show up. They give you hugs and tell you next time it will be better. And you believe them because you know they wouldn’t lie to you.

I mean really, after telling you to completely rewrite that last scene, how could they lie about anything?

How do you get the most out of a writers group?

I mean, it could be a really scary thing, and I’ll admit after a year I still sweat like crazy when it’s my turn to read.

  • Don’t take criticism personally.

You are there to improve. If your group has lots of comments about things that aren’t working, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you. It means you have some work to do. Look at it this way, if you were a hopeless case they wouldn’t bother to give you so much feedback. They believe you can make your story better and they are just trying to help.

  • Don’t take yourself too seriously.

The first time my friend Hillary read out loud, we all laughed until we cried. She was pretty new to writing and reading a rough draft at the time. Some of the mistakes were really funny, but what made it fun was Hillary. She taught me an amazing lesson that night. Whenever she read something that screamed “new writer!” or a description that put crazy images in our heads, she would burst out laughing. She wasn’t embarrassed or scared of what we would think or say, allowing us to have fun with her. Her writing has grown tremendously over the last year, and her writing retained her amazingly humorous voice.

  • Learn the correct way to give a critique.

We’ve lost a member or two in the past because the first time they read they were swept away in an avalanche of negative comments.

There is a skill to being honest and still giving the writer some hope. It’s one you have to learn, and it isn’t easy because you have to learn to watch and read people. If there are a hundred things “wrong” with someone’s writing, you have to ask yourself what is the most important thing I can say to help them right now? Maybe it is watch out for passive voice or overuse of adverbs. Then you phrase it in the comment sandwich.

EVERY TIME!

A comment sandwich is simple.

Start with something you like–great voice! Next pick one or two big things that could be improved upon. Finally, say something else positive about the person, the story, something so the writer is left with a good taste in their mouth.

The Comment Sandwich by Charity Bradford

And last, but not least…

  • Allow the Group to Grow and Change

When I started attending this group there were eight or nine people coming regularly. Lately we average three to four. We used to have one week a month where we would talk about a craft topic. That hasn’t happened in a long time. In November we just write.

The point is, we talk about what we need as individuals as well as a group. Then we put it into action.

Life is all about change. We change. Our writing changes.

Don’t lock yourself into a single idea because eventually it will choke you. Remember that the main point of a writers group is to help you become a better writer and for you to help others become better writers. That may mean sometimes you just sit and talk with other people who “get you”.

writers group2

Good luck finding or starting a writing group and happy writing!

How about you? What’s the scariest part of being in a live writer’s group? What have you learned from your writing group?

Comment here.

Charity Bradford

Charity Bradford has been a voracious reader ever since her 5th grade teacher introduced her to the world of books with Where the Red Fern Grows and Summer of the Monkeys. She’s the mother of four kids that keep her on her toes, constantly reminding her that imagination still makes the world go round.

Her preferred writing genre consists of a mix of science fiction, fantasy, adventure and romance. She also enjoys reading detective novels, YA in all styles, paranormal, and whatever a friend recommends. THE MAGIC WAKES, her first novel, was released in 2014 by WiDo Publishing. 

Her Book:

Magic Wakes by Charity Bradford

(Watch the book trailer here)

Connect with Charity:

Tamara’s Blog

Rebecca’s Thoughts: 

Thanks, Charity, for all the great advice I’m anxious to put into practice (especially the “Don’t take yourself too seriously).

My writer’s group actually meets tonight. So far, our group just discusses writing principles, and it’s been so great to get everyone’s thoughts and perspectives. But maybe we’ll try reading our current WIPs out loud. *bitesnails* Oh wait. Don’t take self too seriously. 

Thanks again, Charity!

Make sure to add your thoughts and comments about writer’s groups here.

Come back tomorrow for our next guest: Christopher Rosche, who happens to be from my writer’s group. :)

MBM

If you’re new to March Book Madness, it has nothing to do with basketball (sorry) and everything to do with books. March is National Reading Month, so March Book Madness gives me an excuse to discuss everything about writing, editing, and reading books with some amazing authors.

If you’ve missed any posts, here they are:

2014 MARCH BOOK MADNESS:

2013 MARCH BOOK MADNESS:

2012 MARCH BOOK MADNESS:

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Author: Rebecca Belliston @rlbelliston

Hopeless romantic and author of CITIZENS OF LOGAN POND, SADIE and AUGUSTINA. Music nerd and composer of RELIGIOUS and CLASSICAL-STYLE music. I live in Michigan with my husband and five kids.

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