|For years, I participated in a weekly writers workshop in a nearby town. Thanks to feedback from fellow writers, I finished the first draft of a mystery novel. |
Unfortunately, it languished in a drawer while I focused on my journalism career. When I was ready to revise the manuscript, my schedule made it difficult to commit to showing up regularly at the same time and place. The alternative: an online critique group, where I could create my own timetable and work at my own pace. Of course, I wouldn’t have the collegial atmosphere that comes with sitting around a table with other writers, but I was willing to give up camaraderie for convenience. I started my search by typing “online critique groups” into my browser, but the results frequently brought me to a site that was for a workshop—often an expensive one. Then I went to Yahoo! Groups and did the same thing. It took some time to scroll through the offerings, but many of these groups give an e-mail address for the list owner or administrator. You can send a private message asking for more information if one of the groups catches your eye.
If you’re looking for an online critique group, consider these two factors: composition and commitment.Composition. Who are your colleagues? No matter what your interest, you can—and should—find a group specializing in the kind of writing you’re doing, whether fiction, memoir, sci-fi or romance. You want to work with others knowledgeable about the genre, tricks of the trade, agents and publishers.
Consider the numbers. Too many, and you may have to wait long for your turn at critique; too few, and the feedback may be limited. If you’re starting out, a smaller group (12 to 25) means your work won’t get lost. Ideally, there should be a mix of newbies and seasoned, published writers. Participating with other beginners can give you confidence, but you may learn more from the critiques of experienced writers. Look for a group with a facilitator to keep the program running smoothly and nudge shy writers off the sidelines.
Commitment. What are the expectations for your participation? Learn the ground rules before signing up. How often can or must you submit work, and how soon are you expected to respond to others’ writing? In the online query-critique group I’ve participated in, there are no hard-and-fast rules. We post as many queries as we can and try to contribute feedback within the week. Critique groups are an exercise in give and take. Put your work out there, but don’t just be a taker. “I’ve learned much more from critiquing the work of others than I would have expected,” says Jennifer Nelson, a freelance writer based in Neptune Beach, Fla.
See “The art of the critique” in the November 2009 issue of The Writer for the “how to” of critiquing, but be aware that commenting on someone else’s work via e-mail, even given the relative anonymity of doing so, requires its own diplomacy. “It’s easier to modify a critique when you’re doing it in person,” says freelance journalist Alice Shane. Between submissions and critiques, be prepared to handle a flood of e-mails. Some participants set up a dedicated e-mail address for the duration of the class, but I used my regular e-mail because I didn’t like having to remember to go to a second provider. At the very least, set up a separate folder in your in-box.
Finding the right group will take some time and maybe some false starts. “You have to be willing to search and experiment before you find a group you like and that helps you improve your writing,” says Ellen Neuborne, a New York City-based ghostwriter who participates in an online fiction-critique group. “You just have to wade in, give it a try, and if it’s not the right one for you, move on.”If you can’t find what you want, you can start your own critique group. Nelson did. “A writer friend and I sort of hand-selected a group we thought might work well together, and who had some previous online critique experience.” She suggests that you set up your group on Yahoo! or Google, so all members are in the e-mail loop.