Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Taking Their Crits with a Smile: Why Join a Face-to-Face Group?

There are so many great resources available online, have we forgotten to take advantage of opportunities for growth in our own hometowns?

As college students my husband (then boyfriend) and I spent hours sipping Caramel Macchiatos and analyzing the word choice of our poetry with two of my dorm mates. 

Over a decade later I rediscovered the lost (to me) art of the face-to-face critique group. 

This time it was slightly more intimidating.  I didn't have anyone to cuddle with over my Cherry Mocchachino.  My five pages weren't being critiqued by the friend with whom I had spent my high school summers biking.

Instead I sat staring into my Mocha praying that God would give me the grace to accept the critiques I was about to receive by a table full of complete strangers.

I rely heavily on the online community for help with my writing.  ACFW is a fabulous organization with many like-minded Christian writers and countless services available for the new and experienced writer.  Through this organization I found my invaluable critique partner.  I've also been able to take advantage of critiques offered by several authors.

However, I believe there are some special advantages offered by the face-to-face critique group.  I would encourage other authors to become involved in the local writing community, as well as the online writing community.

1) Multiple perspectives offered in a short period of time:
Where else can you have multiple people critique your story within a half-hour time frame.  I return home with a folder of marked up copies and several different perspectives.  Different editors have different strengths, it is wonderful when you can combine this in one group.

2) The ability to "hear" your word choice and dialogue.
Several times another reader read a piece of my dialect.  I immediately realized how unrealistic it sounded in several places.  I don't often take the time to read my work out loud and occasionally even when I do, the "wrong" word choice or dialect just slips past me.  Sometimes hearing your own work can be the most powerful correction.

3) Teaches how to respond with grace to criticism:
Let's face it, that little bug called criticism isn't something we always take well.  The online world gives us some time to process, then respond graciously.  There's something that seems easier about it, isn't there.  Its somewhat harder to smile immediately.  What a witness this can be, especially if we are involved in a writer's group with non-Christians.

4) Seeing our work through new eyes:
All of the people who have helped me with my writing online are Christian.  Many even write in the same genre I do.  However, a face-to-face group is often less homogenous.  In the group of four writers I met with last week, each writer has an entirely different profession.  Each is writing in a different genre.  And we each have differing strengths and weaknesses in our writing. 

Do you participate in a face-to-face group?  Are any available in your area?  What are some benefits you have experienced from a critique group?


Diane said...

I do belong to a face-to-face group and love it. I know that each of them is for me and only wants the best so any critiquing is done in love. :O)

Casey said...

Great points, I often don't take the time to read my work outloud and even when you do oftentimes you don't catch everything because you are putting your own inflections into the words because you KNOW how they should go. So it's always good to hear someone else read it. Glad it went well for you the other night! :)

Mary Vee Writer said...

I participated in a face to face group at the Write to Publish conference. We met nightly. We weren't allowed to read our work outloud, someone else did. Ohhh to fight the urge when the reader didn't read it the way it was intended. This of course was a red flag meaning, you need to edit this portion.
I love the rules that come with these types of groups, you know, the Pauline principles: compliment first, then give no more than three constructive criticisms. Wowsers, the initial compliment eases the words to follow. It is a great opportunity. A time to toughen up fragile egos or chop down inflated egos as the case may be.

Julia M. Reffner said...

@ Diane, That's great that you have found such a loving crit group. I am a newbie to mine, but definitely plan on taking advantage of it :)

@ Casey,

Yes, this was a big revelation to me. Especially hearing some of my dialect. Makes me realize when I crit someone else I should make sure to read it aloud, too :) We'll see how they react when some of the faith elements come up :)

Oh, that does sound frustrating, but you're right an excellent sign editing is needed. Makes my face just burn thinking about it. Our group has the compliment first rule and the criticism is definitely constructive...but I'm glad they didn't limit to 3. I definitely needed the toughening up. :)

Pepper said...

Oh Julia,
I'd love the opportunity for face-to-face, but living out here with the cows doesn't provide much opportunity.
Maybe in the future.
For now, I'll just have to enjoy my wonderful partners from the Alley and that occassion crit I win from somewhere :-)

Julia M. Reffner said...


I hope you get the opportunity to find at least 1 writer close enough to get together with regularly. I agree, the Alley cats are a wonderful blessing.