Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Moira Allen
By its very nature, the Internet attracts writers-both good and bad. The result is a thriving on-line community dedicated to the art and craft of writing.
One way to participate in this community is to become involved in a critique group. Such groups function much like traditional writer's groups, with two main goals: To help members improve their writing skills, and to provide a sense of support and camaraderie.
Most critique groups work through e-mail, though some are now being hosted online as well. Members submit material (stories, poems, articles, etc., depending upon the focus of the group), and are expected to review and comment upon the material submitted by others. Frequently, such groups expect members to comment within a specific timeline (e.g., within a week of receiving a submission) and/or to critique a certain number of submissions per month.
Like traditional writer's groups, not all on-line critique groups are created equal. Some are considered highly effective, others less so. Some have advantages over groups that meet in "real time," while others share some of the disadvantages of traditional groups (and some disadvantages that result from the electronic milieu).
Some of the advantages of an on-line critique group include:
One-line critique groups share some of the same problems as
traditional groups, with a few additional problems of their own:
While every group has its own guidelines, most have similar expectations. You will be expected, for example, to participate actively in the critiquing process-often with a required minimum number of critiques. If you don't provide regular (and timely) critiques, you may be placed on inactive status or removed from the list; you will almost certainly be prohibited from posting your own submissions.
You will also be expected to behave professionally and courteously at all times. Critiques should be polite, respecting the efforts and sensitivity of the writers. "Flamers" and rudeness often result in dismissal from the list (members become extremely irritated if a "flame war" breaks out between two or three participants). If an issue or submission needs to be discussed in greater detail, most groups prefer that this discussion take place via private e-mail rather than through the list.
Critiques are expected to be thorough and detailed. Avoid comments like "I liked it" or "It was a really good story." Why did you like it? What made it good? What worked? What could be improved? Critiques should be constructive, emphasizing the strengths of a piece whenever possible. (Sometimes, admittedly, it isn't possible!) Be specific: If a piece is flawed, point out the precise problems and suggest solutions if you can. (Many groups appreciate a critiquer with a good grasp of grammatical issues.) At the same time, don't nit-pick over every misplaced comma or errors that were clearly unintentional.
When your own material is critiqued, it is often considered polite to thank the critiquer (whether you agree with the comments or not). Some groups permit "discussion"-that is, you can respond to a reviewer's comments and clear up areas of confusion. Any such response should be concise and courteous; even if a critique angers you or seems to have completely missed the point of your material, keep your own response professional. (Perhaps because this professionalism is sometimes breached, some groups permit no discussion of critiques, and require that any further comment be handled by personal e-mail.)
Finally, members are expected to respect the confidentiality and copyright of fellow participants. Besides the obvious rule of "no plagiarism," this also means that members may not forward or share submissions with people outside the group.
Before submitting to a critique group, you will have to become an official "member." Sometimes this means agreeing to a set of guidelines; sometimes it means becoming a member of a special-interest list-group. Some groups (such as Writer's Internet Exchange) require a writing sample to demonstrate your skills.
Whether your submissions or critiques are sent via e-mail or posted online, certain formatting requirements are involved:
Finally, polish, edit, and proofread your material to the best of your ability. Critique groups do not appreciate "rough drafts"-they recommend that you take as much care with your submissions as you would in submitting material to an editor. Critiquers quickly lose patience with members who don't bother to do even a computer spellcheck, let alone a visual proofreading. (Critiquers also lose patience with members who have been advised to "clean it up" on previous submissions and who continue to ignore such courtesies.)
Will a critique group make you a better writer? No; only you can do that. It can, however, provide a source of editorial assistance in spotting weaknesses, inconsistencies, or typos that you might otherwise have missed. It can give you a chance to share your own experience and expertise, which can be rewarding in itself. And perhaps best of all, it can help you escape the isolation that often comes with being a writer. Meeting with fellow writers, even on-line, can help remind you that the joys and frustrations of this business are shared by others. You are not alone!
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This article originally appeared in Byline
Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer's Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts VictorianVoices.net, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer's cat. She can be contacted at editors "at" writing-world.com.