Finding a good critique group is like dating. Forgive the “Sex And The City” column-esque format. I’ve been watching a lot of late night re-runs due to writer’s block insomnia. Now, what was I saying? Oh, yes. Dating. I want someone who listens, is sensitive to my needs, and inspires me to be a better person (writer). I joined three critique groups over the years…we’ll call them CG’s #1, #2 and #3. You know, like Bachelor numbers 1, 2, and 3.
CG #1 is optimistic, ambitious, energetic…like a puppy. #1 lives in the moment, savors the process of living (writing), is passionate and spends every free moment studying the craft. CG #1 provides well thought out lengthy criticism, laughs at my jokes and can be funny one minute, serious the next. The “Sensitive Lover”
CG #3 is confident, brutally honest, and has been around the block several times…a veteran. CG #3 gives very quick, concise suggestions and is also very adept at speculating on the sale-ability of a project.
The “Practical Lover”
CG #2 is somewhere in between the other two, is a bit unpredictable and moody and offers crazy suggestions from both ends of the spectrum…a bit of a wild card.
The “Exciting Lover”
Sometimes I like to experiment. I bring the same manuscript to all three groups. CG #1 line edits, gives very detailed ideas for changes and reasons why, and makes me look at my mss in completely new and unexpected ways. I generally walk away from a date with CG #1 refreshed and hopeful, in a puppy-love-like haze.
#3 quickly gives me what works, what doesn’t, and wastes no time telling me if something completely sucks. I go home after a date with CG #3 motivated and determined to work hard at showing them how good of a catch I really am! (I mean, writer)
#2 is generally split on loving me or hating me…which is kind of exciting! I prepare for a date with schizoid CG #2 with nervous anticipation. I never know who in the group will think my work is brilliant and who will think it’s juvenile. I generally leave this very opinionated group feeling confused. Sometimes I wonder why I still date CG #2; I don’t know from one week to the next if I am going to feel upbeat and appealing, or exhausted and defeated. I guess my inner 13-year-old is still deeply attracted to those who keep me on my toes…the excitement of the unknown.
A few times, I strayed. That’s right, searching for that one perfect match, my soul mate…I was tempted by the forbidden fruits of strangers and caved into the seductive invites of “other” critique groups. One group was brand new writers, “back patters”, who loooved everything about each other’s work, but never gave any actual criticism. The other focused on adult books (not THAT kind of adult books…the actual books written for grown-ups). I found them uninviting, pretentious and bordering on rude. Neither of these groups ever really “got” me.
I ended both flings quickly. They felt meaningless and empty. I didn’t want to be smothered in kindness, OR abused. One was too soft, the other was too hard. I needed to go back to my “just right”. And I realized that what was right for me was not to feel forced to settle for just one.
So, I’ve been faithful to CG #’s 1, 2, and 3 for a while now because they each fulfill different needs. I get sensitivity, practicality AND excitement. Is it critique-overkill? Sometimes, yes. But I love and crave the companionship. Writing in a vacuum wouldn’t make me happy. But I don’t think I’ll ever settle down with just one of them…I’m pretty happy playing the field.