Monday, July 18, 2011

Critiquing and the Critique Partners with Marsha West

First off, tell us a little about yourself.
Over the years, I’ve been a PTA mom and volunteer, served on the Fort Worth school board, taught theatre arts in high school, and worked as a principal of two very different elementary schools.  I’ve been writing for about five years, morphing from what I thought of as romantic suspense to single titles where characters are never too old to find love, and danger threatens.  My web site is close to being ready, and (please don’t say I told you so, Jeannie and Jerrie.)  FB may not be too far off in my future. 
I’m “Mimi” to two adorable grandkids, a boy and girl, and my husband and I are excitedly awaiting the arrival of another granddaughter in late summer.  Since retiring, I’ve split my time between concentrating on the writing career, being an officer in my writing chapter, loving on the grandkids, and taking trips with my husband to many beautiful places, some of which find their way into my books.
What are your thoughts on online critique groups’ verses meeting in person?
I don’t have a lot of experience in an actual online critique group.  I have to think doing the whole thing online and never meeting face to face must have its challenges.
What is your ideal critique group?  How many is too many?
It depends on how much time you have to give to not only the meeting but also the time to critique your partners’ pages.  We each have two sets of approximately 20 pages and we read those over at least two times.  (I’m always amazed what I find the second time around. J  How’d I miss that?)  We line edit as well as point out the story elements that don’t ring true for us or inconsistencies that get by.  We meet anywhere from two to three hours together.  One more person might be doable, but that’s another whole story to juggle and adds time away from our own writing.  Of course, reading others’ work makes us a better writer too.  Sooo, as I said at the beginning, “It depends.” 
How often do you feel it’s necessary to meet (e-mail) you’re critique partner(s)?
We meet weekly, but are flexible.  Sometimes life happens and one or more of us can’t make it to the meeting.  Two of us will meet in person and do the missing person’s pages on line.  Or none of us gets together, and we do it all online.  The vast majority of time, we work in person with hard copies in front of us.

What advice would you give someone just starting out in regards to critique groups and the critique concept?
1) Develop a thick skin.  Remember your CPs are not out to crucify you.  They’re trying to help.  They give you the benefit of another set of eyes looking at the babies you’ve spread all over the page.  Because our intent is to put good stuff down on the page, when someone questions us, it hurts.  We frequently make a comment about someone’s writing, followed by, “But it’s your book.”  Bottom line, our opinion is just our opinion.  The book belongs to the writer. 
2)If the critique group is not working for you for whatever reason, look for another group or add a group.  (There are time concerns with adding, but these are people you’ve more than likely grown quite close to if you’ve worked together for any length of time, and it might be difficult to leave them flat out.)
3)Agree to some rules.  I don’t think it matters so much, what they are, so long as you all agree to them.  You know: how often will you meet, how many pages, will you just do big concept or will you line edit, too, etc.
4)Find a group.  Maybe some people can develop as a writer without a critique group.  Despite on line classes and conferences, I wouldn’t have.  It’s not just seeing things marked in my own work, it’s looking at their work, too.  It’s the discipline and structure a group gives regardless of how often you meet.  There’s a time limit.  When I’m writing a new book and know I have to take new pages the next Wednesday, that’s a good motivator for putting my rear in the seat in front of the computer.
There is no one better than your critique partners for picking you up after one of those bad contest experiences or agent rejections.  And no one better to celebrate with when you win contests, an agent requests chapters from your query, or the call comes saying someone wants to publish your work.  So get yourself some CPs, and keep on writing.


  1. Great post, Marsha. I have online critique partners and it does have challenges, but many of the suggestions are the same.

    I think the most important is to establish rule and expectations. How deep should the critique be? How often are you going to exchange material? That kind of thing. And, as you said, remember they are not out to hurt you!

  2. Good advice. I've used online critique groups before, but have just recently joined a group to meet together. Our first meeting was so enjoyable just talking and getting to know each other better.

    And we all write so differently, it will be interesting.

  3. I once belonged to an online critique group whose rules were so strict about submissions that they eliminated me from the group because I didn't submit for a month after my husband passed away. I now belong to Greater Fort Worth Writers group, a small group who write in all genres. We meet twice a month and also supplement between and before the meeting with an online critque group. Members may use their time at meetings for a critique or a brainstorming session about plot, structure etc. I much prefer this over an extremely large group where you don't see the same people each week and have to arrive early to sign up.Everyone has different needs and it helps to write down what you want out of a group before you go looking for one.