What a Writer Needs: FEEDBACK

2011 Winter Retreat (from back left) Vicky, Elizabeth, Robyn
(from front) Gail, Me, Mary Ann
We call ourselves the Cheese Whizzes. It's a long story and only funny to those in this close inner circle of writing friends. We have cheesy nicknames, a hand signal, private jokes, and a penchant for wine, good food, and long philosophical discussions into the wee hours of the morning. But this is not what brings us together several times a year. We were a critique group before we were friends.

Finding a group of peers to offer feedback is invaluable to a writer at any stage, whether just starting out or as a professional. I've been in three groups during my career, each dear to me, and each important in different ways. There are no set rules for how a critique group should function, but certain fundamentals put into place will insure the best result.

1. It helps to have a set of parameters: Who will moderate the group and/or be the administrator? How often will you meet and where? How large will your group be? How many pages can be submitted per person? How far in advance of a meeting should submissions to the group be sent? Must everyone submit for every meeting? Etc. Don't make the rules too inflexible. Writers are quirky and tend to suffocate when boxed in by a lot of strict rules. Our group is capped at six, we meet quarterly with two weekend long retreats in winter and summer, our moderator rotates annually, we send pages electronically and three weeks in advance (full novels by prearrangement with the group,) we prefer that everyone submit something each meeting.

2. Develop trust. This will not be immediate, but your group will not last without it.  Respect each person's writing process and understand what sorts of comments are beneficial at different stages of a manuscript's development. It's good if everyone is on equal footing professionally, or the group might become a "workshop" with one or two leaders always teaching. The group must benefit everyone. The Cheese Whizzes are all published authors of books for young people, but we each bring a different strength and background to the group. Submissions always arrive with instructions from the writer as to what comments would be most helpful to her.

3. Hold each other accountable.  You are forming a professional group, as well as a social group. Push each other to stay involved in your industry, read what is current, attend conferences, and share information with each other. Cheer each other's accomplishments and encourage more. Our group members are all very active professionally and it benefits us as a whole. We get tech talks from Elizabeth, we pass along industry information and news as we learn it, we get SCBWI news from Robyn, conference recaps from those who've attended, information about upcoming workshops, resources, and more. Having a professional peer group is invaluable at any career stage. Having friends who GET your work and your life, is even more valuable.