There’s a lot of writing groups out there, and they offer a lot of different things. It’s been my experience that you have to test drive them as well–some may not be a good fit culturally, or the members may not be at the same level as you, etc., etc.
I belong to quite a few writing groups, and I try to attend/check regularly (depending on whether they’re in-person groups or online). I belong to one group that I found through agentqueryconnect.com (related to agentquery.com, which is a useful website to check out agents) that is much more focused on the end parts of writing than most of the other groups, specifically revision, submission, and marketing.
This group does a “marathon” each summer and winter. These are between 8 and 12 weeks long. Each week you post a section of your work (depending on the marathon, this may have to be a polished work that you’re considering/already submitting), usually a chapter or two. You have to critique at least two other people’s submissions (but can do as many as you like, and there’s a prize for doing the most) and other people come in and look at yours.
I’ve been a part of this group for about a year and a half, but aside from a week here or there, I’ve never managed the marathons before. But I’ve been doing the summer one (I came in three weeks late, but I’m still actually doing it) and it’s been amazing.
A couple months ago, I identified the first chapter of my YA paranormal as being the problem when querying it, so I resolved to fix that problem, and spending a week or two in the marathon seemed like a great way to get feedback. I think I thought I’d either switch projects after that (perhaps the high fantasy book I recently finished and is currently out with betas) or I’d bow out like I have in previous marathons.
But, lo, it was been eye-opening. We’re seven chapters into the book now, and I’m getting great feedback. Almost all of it is pretty minor (which is good, since I’ve been querying this!) but the feedback I’m getting is going to allow me to make this a tighter, more coherent story.
The nice thing about the marathon format versus a normal critique group format (where one or two people go per meeting, and meetings may be every other week or once a month) is that it immerses you more into the stories. It’s like a focused beta, almost. And it’s compact, so you don’t have to wait weeks or months while your group forgets previous chapters before it gets back to your turn. And if a chapter isn’t working, you can rewrite it and stick it back up, and get immediate feedback on what’s working better and what still needs some elbow-grease.
In short, it is my new favorite thing and I regret not doing the earlier ones.
(Though, to be honest, I always intend to do them, and then something else pops up. They’re not at the most convenient times–the winter one is in January/February, so there’s new year sundries that get in the way, and the summer one runs June through August and the small, mobile ones are everywhere and not in school–or I’m eyes deep in writing or another step of the process which is not revision.)
If you have a writing group that touches on critique, I’d recommend this technique. It’s really been way more helpful than I ever imagined.
Have other critiquing techniques you’d recommend, squiders?