Friday, December 16, 2011

Writing group vs Critique group

How does your writing group work?
Okay, blogosphere. I have a question for you.

Last winter, I met with three other writers every two weeks. We met for approx two hours to discuss the writing we handed out at the previous meeting. By the end of April, we read each others NaNos and had some great conversations about things that worked vs things we found confusing.

It looks like we will meet this winter to again swap NaNo chapters (Caveat: this is purely to enjoy the stories and get used to reading and commenting. We realize they are nowhere near "final" stages.), but I have heard requests for more substance to these meetings.

One request is for dedicated writing time. Another is for someone to bring a "lesson" of sorts for each meeting. I feel the group's hunger to learn more and I absolutely applaud it.


As the ad hoc "leader" of our group, I feel conflicted. Reading, sharing, and learning through experience is one thing. But preparing lessons, incorporating free writes, readings, and scene rewrites? This feels a bit much for a 2 hour group.

And the nagging question in my head that I continue to to ignore because I don't know how to deal with is: have our needs and expectations outgrown our group?

The success of last year's group was due largely in part to four people all making the same commitment. This year, one person's work schedule has dramatically changed, another has just returned from a semester abroad and likely hasn't written anything, and I feel like I'm ready to put my 2011 NaNo on the back burner so I can get to my 2010 story. But all the while, no one wants to break up the group.

Ignoring our schedules for a moment, those of you who participate in writing groups, how do you manage writing time versus critique/discussion time? Is it possible to incorporate both, or should they be two separate meetings?

I would love to hear how any of you approach writing/crit groups.


  1. Perhaps you've outgrown the needs of the group?

    Personally, I don't believe in writing/critique groups. I don't think they actually accomplish anything.

    However, you could incorporate lessons easily by just printing out a helpful blog post you've read each week and reading it to the group. I wouldn't do free writes during the session, but perhaps you could do something like picking a writing prompt to have everyone write up a flash fiction for during the week to read at the next week? That way everyone should at least have something written when they get there.

  2. I have a crit group that has gone through many changes over the last 8-10ish years it's been going. Mostly, it's a crit group. Everyone writes and hands out something before the meeting. Then we read each other's work and critique it. At the meeting we go over our notes. It used to be we'd give each other some writing prompts and each write a short story. Then we switched to crit chapters from novels we were all working on.
    Lately, though, it's just been me with something to read. I've been pretty frustrated with my group and have been a actively looking for something to supplement it with, because I don't want to give it up (these are my best friends) but I don't feel like I'm getting much out of it any more. I'm not even honing my crit skills, since no one else has been writing.
    Maybe, for your group, you could do like a once a month, 4 hour session where you do write-ins or tackle heavier stuff, and then keep your twice a week 2 hours sessions for the usual "discuss what you handed out the previous session".

  3. I'm not part of a physical group. Lessons and such sound like a lot more work for you. Is there a site you could download lessons from?

  4. My in-person group is just me and another person. We are both clear about what we want out of the meetings, which is good, and if we need some time away, we just let each other know.

    Having prepared lessons would sort of turn me off. :-\

  5. So who made you the leader? Is it possible that if the group decides to become more structured you can spread the work around so everyone has a turn leading a meeting?

    Our local writing group meets once a month for write-ins, but there are no formal lessons or anything. If people want to share their work they can but it's not required. I like it that way. Plus no one person has to bear the burden of all the planning.

  6. Welll, I guess I became the "leader" (and let's use the term very loosely) because I volunteered last year to find a time we could all meet. I think it just kind of stuck.

    I'm not sure what the right answer is, but thanks to al of you for your suggestions. I might wait until January and put some space between me and the group before I make any decisions. But ultimately, I have to do what I think will provide the most productive use of my time and do what gets me to write. Right now, I'm concerned that lessons and group readings will take away from writing time.


I love getting comments. They're as much fun as getting real snail mail. So please, chime in and tell me what you think!

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