Thursday, December 11, 2008

Friends Like Mine - Where Do You Get 'Em?

A nice person asked how I found my critique group and how we operate. Well! Lisa and Lynn (in photo in the last post) and I are hoping to speak on this topic at the Romance Writers of America conference this July - we find out in January if our proposal was accepted - but I'll summarize here.

Our group has existed in some form or other since the Dawn of Time. I joined it ten - ten! - years ago. It started out as a romance writing group. People came and went. Sometimes they moved away (Libby, Diane, Nichole, Rachelle), and occasionally they quit entirely (Irene, which still makes me sad). Lisa and Lynn sometimes talk about the Beginning Times...I curl up at their feet and listen while they spin tales of olde...but the three of us, the current core of the group, have been together for many years.

We get new people sometimes. Occasionally, one of us brought a friend. Once it didn't work out so well and it became obvious to everyone that it wasn't a match. Once it worked out great: that's our dear Cyndy, a true-blue and valued addition. Four or five times that I remember, we met new members at the San Francisco chapter of RWA and decided to invite them to join us. (That's how we got Trish.)

In recent times, when people express interest in joining, we've had to say no. There are five of us now, and five feels right. And we have all learned to be very, very protective of what works.

That said, there is no magic formula. From talking to other writers we've come to understand that what works for us wouldn't work for other groups. (We've also discovered we're very lucky...we have had no backstabbing, infighting, pettiness, undermining, jealousy issues....none of that. We're all big girls and we act like it.)

What We Do
1. Meet every week
2. Set weekly goals, check in on progress with daily emails
3. Pass along ideas, industry news, promotion ideas, and blog posts of interest
4. Consider new members as a group
5. Eject non-contributing members
6. Swap, recommend and analyze books
7. Go on retreats (plotting, brainstorming)
8. Take workshops, continuing education, share techniques
9. Explore new concepts and ideas (examples include business plans, collaging, outlining, and field trips)
10. Invite guests
11. Meet one-on-one for specific coaching (The Diet Coke Effect)
12. Provide “life intervention” support (babysitting, ride share, compassionate ear, etc.)
13. Celebrate! Birthdays, biannual critique group dinners, family get-togethers, “good-news” sharing

There's so much more to say on the topic, but I really must do a little bit of work tonight, so I'll close for now by debunking a few critique group myths:

1. Pick people in your own genre.

The truth is that while you probably want to make sure everyone is writing genre (as opposed to literary, and I mean no offense to those who do, but it's a different endeavor, in my mind), you need only make sure you have NO GENRE SNOBS (someone inscribe that on my gravestone, please) and you'll do fine. Nearly every element of genre fiction succeeds and fails based on the same factors; only the details change.

2. Get the most successful authors you can.

Brilliant writers do not always make brilliant critiquers. Sometimes they have a very narrow vision - and that may work well for their own books. Also, "fresh readers" - those writers who are still unaware of all the rules - are extremely valuable. Make them tell you what they really think of your book and be sure to thank them, because they are a direct conduit into the heart of your readership.

3. Cut the chatter - you're here to work.

Oh, how we struggled with this one. We tried all kinds of ways to force ourselves to stay on topic. You know what finally worked? Getting serious. When we all got serious about our work, we found that we gossip just as much as ever, but now a good portion of it is industry-related. I learn more from my friends than I would poring over blogs - and we share every bit of useful knowledge with each other. As for the rest of the off-topic stuff...well, I wouldn't trade it. I just stay up a little later at night making up the time.

1 comment:

Leslie said...

Thanks Sophie, this is very timely advice for a group starting on Wednesday!