Saturday, April 04, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: Critique Groups

When we last looked in on the Blog Chain, we were writing short stories about hearts. For this round, Mary has asked us about critique groups:

Are you in a critique group? If so, at what point do you send chapters to the members of your group? How detailed are the critiques you receive and give? Do all members in you group write the same genre?

Michelle was the last person to post before me.

As several other people have done, I'm going to break up this topic into the individual questions as I respond.

Are you in a critique group?--Yes, I'm a member of the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. I joined back in 2003.

At what point do you send chapters to the members of your group?--The OWW works a little differently from other critique groups in that you post chapters on a website (it's password-protected; the author retains all rights.) and then other members are free to read and comment on your chapters. In theory, any other member of the workshop can critique anyone else's work, but what often happens is that over time you develop critting partnerships with several other people. In my most active period, I was following at least six or seven people at once. You can have up to three chapters posted at any time. I post mine when I feel I've done as much on them as I can. I write pretty cleanly to begin with, but I will go back and try to add description (my description tends to be sparse on the first pass), clear up any inconsistencies or awkward phrases, and fix any other potential problems I spot. My philosophy is that it would be wasting other's time to have them point out problems I'm already aware of. I want my critters to push me and my writing to a higher level than I can achieve on my own, so my writing has to be the best it can be from the start.

Other people who've already posted on this topic have said sometimes they give their crit partners "raw" writing to get some quick feedback about how well something works. I've seen other people on OWW do that too, though I tend to find that distracting to crit as I still want to make line comments. While I do see the value of brainstorming with crit partners, I don't do much of that myself, at least before they comment. Sometimes if I have a question about one of their comments, I will follow up with them for clarification or to ask if they think a particular idea will work better. Also, if I have a concern with a particular aspect of the chapter, I will ask for feedback on that when I post the chapter.

How detailed are the critiques you receive and give?--I can be a very nitpicky crit partner. I have done copy editing before, so I still do it as part of my regular critting. I feel I ought to point out as much as I can in a crit, since I don't know how much revising the author will do before submitting the work. Sometimes it can take me a couple of hours to copy edit a single chapter. Although I focus on "line edits," I always try to step back and look for larger issues as well. If the author has questions, I answer them. I always offer praise on some aspect of the work (it helps the medicine go down) and phrase my comments constructively.

The critiques I receive vary in level of detail -- and in how useful they are. Some people do line edits; others offer overall comments. No matter how I feel about what the person said, I e-mail them thank-yous if they've given me an e-mail address.

Do all members in you group write the same genre? -- By definition, the OWW is limited to science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories. Some of my regular reviewers prefer fantasy; others, science fiction; and other people, like me, write both. (I'm not a horror fan--I get enough horror from the news--so I avoid it.) Only recently, as I've started to follow other blogs such as Miss Snark's First Victim, have I branched out and critted other genres. I have to admit it's easier to review genres I'm familiar with.

That covers all of the questions Mary had for us. If anyone would like to learn more about the OWW, please post questions in the comments. Otherwise, please visit Kat Harris's blog (she posts after me) or our newest member, Annie Louden!


ElanaJ said...

Sandra, I'm glad you enjoy working at OWW. I tried, but it was too big for me. It is nice that they all write the same genre though. And while I was there, I did get some kind critiques. :)

celticqueen said...

Both my crit groups worked the way OWW does. I enjoyed working in those groups, but in both cases, the membership was way too high and I just couldn't keep up. In my first group we had over 20 people and while critting everyone's work wasn't necessarily required, it was encouraged. But also in both cases, I came away from each group with a few very trusted crit buddies. I enjoyed the more formal critting atmosphere, but if I joined a group again, I would make sure there was a limited membership :)

Anonymous said...

OWW sounds interesting. I'm glad it has worked for you. I think it is really important to find people whgo will be honest with your work.

Great post.

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I think it is good that you are nit-picky crit partner - those are the best kinds!

Kat Harris said...

I want my critters to push me and my writing to a higher level than I can achieve on my own, so my writing has to be the best it can be from the start.

Well said!

OWW sounds like an incredible resource for writers. It's been kind of fun to Miss Snark's First Victim grow over the past year. Hasn't it?

And bless you for being a nit-picky critter. That's the best kind.

Sabrina said...

Interesting! Since that's my "genre" maybe I should look into it. If I ever become brave enough to let someone else read my stuff that is. :)

Annie Louden said...

That's interesting that in OWW, anyone can crit on anyone's work.
What would happen if you got a crit that wasn't particularly helpful? Would you ask that person not to crit again? Or, would you just glance over a critique like that?
I'm thinking back to my undergrad days when everyone read everyone's work, and there were definitely some people's crits I didn't care for.

Carolyn Kaufman said...

You're right, OWW sounds a lot like how Critters worked. I didn't have any problems keeping up with critting other people's, but it took up quite a bit of energy to have to decide each time how much I could trust of any one writer's crit. It got easier, of course, as I fell into critting the works of people I liked regularly, and they began to crit me regularly in return.

Anonymous said...

OWW sounds interesting, although large. I do love a nitpicky critter! :)

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