Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Starting a Critique Group

     Have you had trouble finding a critique group that's right for you? Then perhaps you could start your own. 
     If you don't know any other writers you might be able to find some at a conference or through people you know. Librarians, bookstore staff, and English teachers might be able to help you, but just telling as many people as possible that you want to meet other writers should lead to some introductions.
      You'll need to agree on a meeting time and place if you will be meeting in person, or decide if you want to establish a Yahoo group or just e-mail each other directly if you're doing it online. Then you can discuss the things mentioned in my last few posts and agree on how the critiques will be handled. Although it's not a major factor, for face-to-face groups you might also want to decide if refreshments will be served and how they will be provided if you have them. Some other things to consider are the genres to be critiqued and the maximum number of members to be allowed.
     It may take a while for a new group to get established, but once it does you'll probably not only help each other with your writing, but become good friends as well.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Why and How of Critique Groups

     Why bother to join a critique group? If someone just wants to diddle around and fellowship with people who like to write they would be better off to join a book club. Accomplished professional writers may join groups to help beginners and intermediates. For the rest of us, the input from critique groups does a lot to help us improve our skills and get published. That is, if the group is run well. 
     Whether on-line or in person, it's imperative that the group has and follows rules that make sure everyone has an equal opportunity to have their work critiqued and that everyone helps critique the work of others. I was once in an internet group where the moderator sent lots of things for others to critique, but never critiqued other people's work. For obvious reasons, I didn't stay in that group for long.  It also helps to have clear limits about how much each person can ask the others to read and discuss. In some groups people argue about suggestions, which wastes everyone's time. Nobody is required to follow advice, but common courtesy requires that they accept it politely. A poorly run group can be worse than none at all, but a good critique group is something every serious writer should experience.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Where and When of Critique Groups

Some critique groups meet face-to-face and others use the internet. There are pros and cons to both kinds. 
If groups meet in person, members can read each others' work aloud. That's helpful because intonation patterns or stumbling over awkward phrasing can reveal a lot. Internet critique groups can include members who live far apart, use different dialects and have different experiences so they offer different perspectives.
The first kind of group may meet in homes or public places, and the convenience of the location must be taken into account. Obviously internet access is necessary for online critique groups and all members must be able to open each others' documents unless material is copied and pasted into e-mail messages.
Physical meetings need to be held at convenient times for all members, and frequency must be considered. Many such groups have monthly meetings and some writers' deadlines might come between meetings. Internet groups need to be well moderated so all members can post equal amounts of work and do their share of critiquing. It helps if a schedule for posting material is agreed on. Frequency is also a factor here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Who and What of Critique Groups

       The value of a critique group depends partly on who is in it, and who is in charge. How many of the other members are published writers and how often have they been published? If they're mostly just amateurs playing around with the idea of maybe getting a book published someday the group probably won't be very helpful to a person seriously interested in writing. But if they're all accomplished professionals, a newbie probably won't fit in. Ideally at least some members should have been published and the other members should be serious about writing. 
       What the members write also makes a difference. I once attended a group where most members wrote sexy romance novels and, since I was writing fiction for kids, the group was no help. Some groups critique discuss work in all genres, while others only do certain kinds of writing. If you're looking for a critique group be sure at least some other members know enough about the sort of thing you write to be helpful to you.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Critique Groups 1A

     Good critique groups can be a great help for writers, but not all groups are good. I am now and have been in some wonderful ones, but I've also had some very negative experiences in others. If you are considering joining or starting a critique group you need to begin by asking the basic question words: who, what, where, when, why, and how. Who are the members and leaders of the group? What do they do? Where (including online or in person) do they meet? When do they meet or post? Why does the group exist and why might you want to join it? How are the critiques and meetings or messages organized and handled? 
     I'll talk more about each of these questions in future posts. 

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Invisible Detective

I recently read several books in the Invisible Detective series by Justin Richards, and was amazed that I hadn't heard about them before. The stories take place partly in modern England and partly in the same locale near the beginning of WWII. Combining history, mystery, and a touch of fantasy with unique but believable characters and some scary settings, these exciting books are just the sort to appeal to kids. If I knew any reluctant readers, especially boys, I'd certainly recommend this series to them. Kids of either sex who like to read will probably enjoy them a lot too.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Daisy Chain

Mary E. DeMuth has written a moving and poignant book, Daisy Chain, about an apparently ideal Christian family with dark secrets, including abuse. It's also an intriguing mystery story. The characters and setting are well-drawn and believable and the plot kept me turning the pages. However there are far too many things left unresolved at the end. Everything will probably be explained by the end of the series, but the rest of the books haven't been published yet. In the meantime, this book would be a good discussion starter.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Christian Writers Conference

In just a few weeks I'll be going to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference near Santa Cruz, California. I've been to lots of them, and this conference is one of the highlights of every year. Some people think writers' conferences are just opportunities to meet agents and editors to get things published, and that often does happen. But this conference offers much more. Like most writers' conferences, it's a chance to learn about the industry and improve your craft. Like most Christian conferences, it's inspiring. But, to me, the best thing about it is the relationships. Because everyone there is a Christian who loves writing and reading, we share two of the most important things in our lives. And because writers are communicators but writing is a solitary task, we connect and bond with each other easily.
Because of the economy, I hesitated to go, but decided it was worth it. However many other people who usually attend aren't going and they still have spots open, so they're offering a $200 discount for people who've never attended before and sign up in the next few weeks. If you're interested, please go to the website, http://mounthermon.org/adult/professionals/writers-conference. And please tell them I sent you so I'll get a discount too.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Blogging About Blogging

Hello, readers, whoever you are. 
Blogging is an interesting way to reach others without knowing who they might be. Even when performing before a large audience, actors and musicians can see the people listening to them, but this is just one of the many ways humans communicate to others without ever encountering them in person. For hundreds of years and more humans have written books without knowing who reads them, and for decades people have sent out messages through radio, TV and movies to unknown audiences. But somehow blogging is different from all that. It's quick, like TV and radio, but lingers a while like magazines, newspapers, and other written material. It's both personal and impersonal. 
I wonder how long it will be before technological changes or other factors make the blogs we use today obsolete. Maybe hundreds of years from now archeologists will figure out ways to recapture things lost in cyberspace and try to reconstruct our culture. And what might they think of blogging if that ever happens?