Weekly Musing: Critical Thinking

Looking over my previous posts I realized I have yet to talk about writers groups in any kind of detail. What made me think about this is now that I’m finally getting more settled in my new area, I decided to spread my wings and find myself a writers group. I had to decide if I wanted to join another in person group, like I had where I used to live, or did I want to go online.

I’ve used both and prefer in person but online has some advantages. One site I’ve used is Critique Circle . This was great for when I decided to start sharing my work with others because it is pretty much anonymous. What I like about their site is the credit system as well as the tit-for-tat list. The way the credit system works is a writer gets a set amount of credits when they first join. Each time you want to submit a story for review it costs a certain amount of credits depending upon length of the piece. In order to earn credits, you need to critique other stories thus encouraging writers to learn from each other. As someone reviews your story, a special icon shows up next to their name whenever the next time they post their own story. The purpose of this is good karma.

I prefer in person just because it’s nice being around other writers and sharing struggles and triumphs. I’d been looking for a group over the past few months and used Meetup.com . Last week I mustered up enough courage to attend a couple of meetings of the Charlotte Writers Group. Each Wednesday night they meet at a coffee shop for a write-in. The idea being it’s a set period of time for people to work or to socialize or both. In addition to the Wednesday night write-ins, they meet the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month to critique stories.

I was unsure if I would go to their critique group until that first write-in. I should up way early to the write-in and nervously waited. This first person I met I started asking him about what the critique group was like. He put my mind at ease telling me how respectful and honest people were and most importantly, encouraging. I told him a little bit about my old writers group because it sounded like I would be in a very similar environment. As other members showed up, I immediately felt safe and secure.

But going into my first meeting, I still wondered if would be a good fit for me. I’m glad I went, though. While I didn’t read the stories that were up for review, wanted to observe first, what I saw and heard was reassuring. It’s a diverse group in age, gender, published or not, and backgrounds. There was a positive, comfortable energy to the group as the stories were reviewed. I like the structure they have for critiques. Each story is given fifty minutes to be discussed and rather than go around the room having each person give their comments, whoever feels like commenting speaks. To keep order the leader writes down the order in which people want to comment.

Another thing I appreciate is how stories are chosen for review. In between stories, the leader asks if anyone has a story ready to raise his or her hand. He writes down the names, puts them in a hat, and draws out two names.

It was interesting seeing how another writers group is run. My old group would take up to three submissions for each meeting and we went around the room for each story. Nice and easy process for both groups.

I’m grateful and hopeful that my new writers group will be a positive place. I’ve been spoiled so far in my experiences with critique groups. There are horror stories floating out there about people joining a group where members get competitive and jealous of others’ successes or who make new members cry after critiquing their first piece. Yes, one must develop a thick skin as a writer and realize not everyone will like your work for one reason or another, but even the most poorly written piece has some bright spots. In my opinion the responsibility of a writers group is to support each other. Ripping someone apart or being jealous of success doesn’t accomplish that. I’m thankful I seem to have found a group of people who share that philosophy.

It’s all about what works best for you as long as you get some kind of consistent feedback. Look for people that will offer constructive criticisms. This means both positive and negative feedback. It’s far too easy to focus on a story’s flaws that telling someone what they are doing right is far more difficult. In some ways it’s more important to let someone know what they are doing right so they can play to their strengths.

At the end of the day, you, the writer, can take whatever criticism is thrown at you with a grain of salt. Disagree with someone’s assessment of your story? That’s fine; you aren’t beholden to them or anyone else to please them as long as you are pleased with the story. You’re the King or Queen of your world.