I just got back from my first critique group and …

Yeah… My first time walking into a critique group. I’m hoping to share some of my experiences with you in this process. Maybe some of you will share your own.

A few days ago I found a posting on the local library website. **Writers Group 10am – 1pm Call [redacted] for more information**
I called yesterday morning & got an answering machine. Left a message. Got no response.
The above ad. was all the information I had to go on so I decided to just bring myself & observe the meeting.

I showed up to the meeting this morning & was greeted by 4 men. I was obviously the youngest one there (I’m 48). This was not a surprise, I live in Florida. Friday mornings are prime-time for our seniors. One of the men takes the lead and introduces me to everyone. They tell me that the group frequently has 12-15 people but most of the snowbirds have gone home. The person I had called they already knew wouldn’t be here today. Apparently she’s one of the former English teachers in the group.

After a few short minutes of chat, one of the men, obviously the oldest, (maybe 112?) is asked to read the chapter he brought.
Everyone else is listening and taking notes. There is no written copy of the material for everyone, only the author reading. His piece is a historical one focusing on a slave owner in Virgina in the early 1800’s. It’s an early chapter but not chapter 1 so I make allowances for not knowing the preceding chapters.
I found most of the chapter interesting and well written but a bit dry. Most of the scene takes place on a cargo boat that they are taking from Virgina to the Bahamas to buy things to sell back home.
After the reading, everyone goes around giving their opinions and recommendations.

The next person to read likes to write fairy tale type stories for his great-grandchildren. He’s in his 70’s.
The piece is short. Again I like it, not perfect but good and everyone, including myself, gives their opinions.

The other two men in the room haven’t brought anything for the group to review. They look at me.
They ask me if I want to read something of my own work. They also ask if I have any questions or opinions about the group. I mention that I find it difficult to really critique a written piece without actual writing for me to read. Someone says something about that’s why they all take notes while the reading was going on. I guess he missed my point and was somewhat annoyed at me for only listening instead of making notes.
I mention something about my own disastrous use of commas. Someone else says they can never see the commas anyway. Sigh.

Since my work is on Google Docs I excuse myself to get the library wifi password for my phone.
When I get back I read them my first chapter.
A page or so into the chapter someone in the group stops me and asks me to read slower. I try.
The chapter includes two government characters looking out at a crowd of protesters. Some of the protesters start throwing rocks at the capitol building.
A sixth person joins our meeting as I get to the end of the reading

The opinions I get from person 1: Something along the lines of well written from what I could follow.
Person 2: (I’ll let you guess which one): “I couldn’t hear most of it. My fault… sorry.”
Person 3: It felt more like scene out of the 1960’s I didn’t get a feel for being a thousand years in the future.
[Maybe a valid point. I’ll take that into consideration.]
Person 4: You started by introducing a Senator, then you never went back to that character. [The main character IS the Senator as noted by the constant use of calling him Senator Davies.]
The characters were looking out the front windows of the building. What about the windows in the back of the building? [I really don’t understand his point.]
What about the rocket they launched through the window? [It was rocks.] Sigh.
You mentioned a protester with a sign about missing pizza. Why was there no more about that? I was still thinking about the pizza by the end of the chapter.
Back to person 3: Where did they get the rocks? [Really?? Seriously??]

I’m perplexed by the observation and only say that it plays a part later in the story. He doesn’t seem to like my answer. Does this person expect every question answered within each chapter?
After I got home I actually found his observation to be a good one. It tells me that he latched onto something in the first chapter to make him want to find out more. That seems good to me.

The sixth person to enter the meeting also didn’t bring anything for us to review.
The meeting breaks up after some more small talk.

My opinion of the group is probably self-evident to you by now. The group seems to be focused on some retirees dabbling in story telling and looking for a way to spend their time. They were all very nice people but I’m not sure they will fit my needs. Most of their responses to my work could have been cleared up if everyone had an actual copy to look at.

Writing this post has finally given me an idea for what to write as a blog. Maybe I’ll start one and write about further experiences with other writer groups.

You can find the first chapter on this link.

Your views about this and your own experiences with these things would be appreciated.

Blog Post Two – Second Writers Group

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13 thoughts on “I just got back from my first critique group and …

  1. You make some very valid points. I run a writer’s group, and I struggle to keep the retirees out. We have a group of active young writers who are jazzed about writing and the writing process, and I don’t want to gum it up with social hour for seniors. I know that sounds awful, but it quickly devolves into remembrances and asides that have no business in a writer’s critique. Anyway, good luck on the search. If you find the right group, it’s worth it. It can motivate and energize your writing, but the process is like looking for a hot date for New Years Eve.

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  2. You’re giving me some great input as I think about starting a writing group in my neighborhood — my intention is to use a local brew pub with just the right music volume and table arrangement, so I hope I will manage to create a different dynamic. Then again, it could quickly devolve into drunken critiquing… Just my luck they’ll all be mean drunks, too. šŸ™‚

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    • I’m not sure how well a pub would work. One of the groups mentioned that they had met in a restaurant for awhile but the management wasn’t real friendly about it. Too many of the people had no interest in the food or drinks.

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      • Yeah, I’d definitely see to it that the participants showed a little love to the establishment; it’s common courtesy! It would probably have to be an “off” night, though, where even a little business would be welcome. Still giving it some thought… Might just nix the critique group idea and make it a support group for writers who like craft beer!

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  3. I have never had the courage to join a “writing” or “critique” group, because my small experience with letting other (aspiring) writers read my work has been very negative. Maybe I’m just a terrible writer, but it does seem like people are more focused on finding fault than giving any kind of constructive feedback. In my imagination this is only magnified in a roomful of strangers who have no reason to be helpful.

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  4. I’ll be honest – I despised my first writing group experience but that’s because I don’t think I chose very well. There was a guy in his early 60s who lamented about how he’s been trying to pitch his book for the past two decades. Another guy ran a bookstore who hated romance (my genre) and tried to come off with a Bill Murray-esque dry sense of humor without in fact being Bill Murray. The rest were a bunch of writers so locked into their own worlds that they couldn’t fathom living in another writer’s head. I hope to find a writer’s group someday but right now, I’m still shellshocked from the first experience. Thanks for sharing yours!

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  5. Even in a legit critique group, this can happen. I’ve had people critique my story and ask asinine questions. “I don’t know enough about this character’s motivations.” It’s a random 2500-word selection. Of course you don’t. “I don’t get what’s going on.” You’re not supposed to. Notice how the main character is baffled, too? “What does this mean?” Try reading the very next line. Some people want everything explained at every time. Don’t even get me started on submitting fantasy to people who don’t read fantasy.

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  6. I’ve never joined a group because I, too, live in FL and work a regular jobs and all the groups meet during working hours. Then, I found a group online that met in the evening. I reached out to them and they don’t do children’s books. Ok. So, I’mean back to looking. I like the response about finding a good writing group is like trying to find a hot date on New Year’s Eve. Hahaha! Now with your experience, I feel even less motivated. Someone asked me to start one but never having been in one, I don’t think I’d have a clue. Thanks for sharing your experience. Where are you in FL?

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  7. I go to a writer’s group and the biggest problem I find is that sometimes people will submit truly awful work, but no one wants to be the one to say it. Or if you do offer feedback, the writer either gets super defensive or then is overly critical of your work. It’s a difficult balance to strike. I was at one group and a woman had submitted something that was full of problems, and when we all tried to offer tips, she kept telling us that an editor had loved it (so why submit it for our critique then?) or it was based on her life story (and therefore beyond reproach). Kind of missed the point.

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  8. My experience is that writing groups in general are socialization, especially if they’re the open to the public kind. My best group so far was big, and social, and encouraging… and we split off into pairs or trios who were working on more closely related projects to do the real work. More of a way to meet critique partners than a final destination.
    Since then, though, I’ve moved to a smaller town, and I’m lucky if I can find another writer, period. Especially if I want one who actually has a book in hand.

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