The first writing group I ever joined was an eclectic mix. We drank coffee and shared muffins, and liked each other as people. We met for two hours once a week, bringing pages to read out loud and copies for everyone to follow along and jot feedback
We spanned genres. Two of the members were writing memoirs, one a cozy mystery, one a women’s fiction. And then there was me. I wanted to write for young adults, but the group discouraged that. I worked on an adult fiction piece that never sold, as well as the psychic ghost story that became my first novel, Unfolding the Shadows.
But any time I tried to start something for teens, the group disapproved. When I brought my first mermaid pages, they listened politely but wrote cutting comments on the papers they returned to me.
I liked these people. But. They didn’t understand. And it hurt.
I left the group. Or should I say, we broke up.
Finding the right writing groups or critique partner is like dating. You need to find the right fit, and you should keep trying new ones until you do. You’re getting into a relationship, and it needs to work for everyone involved, so don’t commit before you know it’s right for you.
You might go on a second date with a guy, even if the first one wasn’t so hot. You know, give him a second chance, because anyone can have an “off” day. But. You wouldn’t make long term plans until you were comfortable with him.
Same with a critique group.
When you find the right group or person, you just know it. Kathy Otten, author of A Tarnished Knight from The Wild Rose Press, says she’d be nowhere as a writer without her critique group. They meet once a week for 3.5 hours to exchange pages and give feedback, and she finds them “invaluable, not only for critiquing but for encouragement and support.” Important enough to drive 85 miles round trip to be there!
Her group has a leader, who keeps them from getting too far off topic in their discussions. “We have members from all walks of life with different careers (technical writer, an attorney, social worker, a cop, nurse and others) and that makes for a great resource to use in research. I've learned that leather cowboy boots don't burn if the hero tosses them into a fire. Foster kids can't share a bedroom. And just because someone gets shot, doesn't mean they fall down.”
Other writers haven’t been as lucky with groups.
Urban Fantasy author J.C. McKenzie recalls she once paid $110 for a 4-month weekly manuscript workshop. “The idea was to bring your completed manuscript and every week the group would critique the work together... It essentially resulted in a 10 minute hot-seat, where the other unpublished writers would rip into my work and tell me it was crap without providing any constructive feedback on how to make it better. The experience left me crying in my car more than once and almost killed my passion for the craft. Thankfully I found the RWA (Romance Writers of America) and through it, some wonderful, supportive critique partners.”
A good critique partner, or CP, is “worth their weight in royalties.”
Her advice on finding the perfect fit? “Be upfront with what you want: how often you want to exchange work, how much work is exchanged at once, what kind of feedback you want, etc. Don't be afraid to say that it's not quite what you're looking for after you've exchanged the first chapters, otherwise you've committed to a one-sided relationship.”
She adds, “Don't be afraid to ignore their suggestions and advice, either. It's your work, not theirs. Also, try to let the CP's suggestions sit before you look at your work again. Sometimes when you first read the comments, they seem overwhelming, but with a clear head, they can really make your manuscript pop!”
Another option? Finding that “group” feel in an online environment.
Romance author Ilona Fridl says she found “the perfect writing group” at AllWriters’ Workplace& Workshop, in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Although definitely further than 85 miles from Cape Cod, they offer online workshops, courses and groups led by published writers. “And unlike some groups,” Ilona says, “all the criticism is positive.”
Ilona credits the class and instructor Kathie Giorgio for helping sell her very first book. Her fifth book, Iris Rainbow, is coming out in July from The Wild Rose Press.
Closer to home, the Cape Cod Writers Center sponsors many writing groups for their members, as well as an annual conference here on the Cape. A Book in Hand hosts monthly author nights at the Jacob Sears Memorial Library in Dennis. These events are open to the public and a great place to meet and mingle with other authors. Check their calendar.
Many libraries also have writing groups that meet in their conference rooms once a week or once a month. The Dennis Public Library on Hall Street in Dennisport also hosts a Friday AuthorSeries at the end of each month. The SandwichPublic Library hosts author events in conjunction with Titcombs Bookshop.
Seriously, stop by and chat with your local librarian to see what’s going on in your town.
Finding a group? Not so hard. Finding the right group or CP? Priceless.
When my writing group didn’t want to read about my mermaids, I was a little crushed.
At my high school reunion, I ran into a guy who’s now a computer programmer and an aspiring novelist. I complained about my writing group and he sympathized. We became Facebook friends, exchanged emails and then manuscript pages. He encouraged me to add more action and drama to my storyline, helping me mold my bad guy into something even more evil than he was before. Turned out, he was the CP I’d been looking for!
And Son of a Mermaid sold soon after.
My second young adult mermaid book – Blood of a Mermaid – was published May 15 by Crescent Moon Press.
My next romance novel, My Kind of Crazy, makes its worldwide debut at the end of July, published by The Wild Rose Press.
I’m still searching for that perfect writing group. But in the meantime, I’ll just keep writing.
About the author:Katie O’Sullivan loves editing, writing and playing with words. She lives in Harwich with her family, and the big dogs who "make" her walk on the beach every day.
She writes romance and adventure for young adults and the young at heart. Her first young adult novel, Son of a Mermaid, was published in 2013 by Crescent Moon Press. The sequel, Blood of a Mermaid, is available May 2014.
Her latest Cape Cod romance is My Kind of Crazy, published by The Wild Rose Press in March 2014. Available now exclusively on Kindle, the world-wide all-format release is slated for July 31, 2014.
Visit her website at www.Katie-osullivan.com, and be sure to check out her regular column THE WRITE WAY in every issue of CapeWomenOnline.com magazine.