By B. Payton-Settles
July 20, 2018
When I stumbled onto critique groups almost ten years ago, they existed only as hard-copy, four-or-five-writers-working-together-around-a-table, incarnations. Now, through the wonders of social media, critique groups exist on-line, as well. Although I prefer the in-the-flesh model, I’m glad we have options today; critique groups are essential, both for budding writers and those whose careers are launched and moving along smoothly. We never outgrow the need for honest, professional feedback and support. My association with the critique group lovingly nicknamed Thrillerz provides that for me.
When I joined Redwood Writers Club (aka “RW”, the local arm of the California Writers Club) almost ten years ago, I was encouraged to participate in a critique group. I was new to acceptance of myself as a writer and floundering in the development of a mystery/paranormal novel. I figured I had nothing to lose.
Ana Manwaring, an RW veteran, gathered five of us for the initial meeting at a Starbucks. First order of business was choosing a maximum number of participants (five), a genre qualification (mystery/police procedure), and a meeting structure (twice a month on Wednesday evenings). We were on our way.
It took only a few meetings for us to realize that coffee houses, with their hard-to-manage noise level, don’t work as meeting places long term. When we interviewed for members, one or two prospects opted out based on that limitation. We relocated, first to a conference room in the Rohnert Park PD (member Thonie Hevron worked there), then to the Santa Rosa office of member Fred Weisel, and currently, to a member’s home in Petaluma.
Our meeting format is simple: we each bring pages for the others to take home, edit, and bring back to the next meeting, where we read a sampling and discuss the edits.
This is a great way to benefit from one another’s skill and get real-life feedback concerning subject matter. One perk: We get in on amazing, imaginative stuff as it is created. Another perk: Our understanding of human nature is indelibly deepened.
In taking a nostalgic look back at Thrillerz’ past participants—some for a few months, some for a few years—I see the enormous benefit in exposure to the many diverse personalities. We’ve had grammar divas (that would be me), adjective bludgeoners, ‘repetition’ police, plot questioners (Where’d that guy come from? You never mentioned him before. At least give us a description!), and of course, morale boosters. Thank heavens for my fellow writers and their dedication to this, sometimes, frustrating craft.
As I have developed as a writer, I’ve had many moments of doubt about the worth of my stuff, my chances for recognition, my writing ability. My critique group, as honest in their criticisms as they are lavish in their support, keeps me writing.
B. Payton-Settles was reading at the age of four and still reads everything she can. She’s been writing since her teen-age years (She’s retirement age, now) and loves getting feedback about her published work. Her home base is Petaluma, California, where writing, teaching, and research happen.
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