If you were to ask, “What helped you the most from the genesis of Hidden Shadows to its completion?” I’d immediately answer: “A critique group of gifted, perceptive writers.”
I would wish such a group for every writer. But from what I’ve heard, this isn’t always the case. Perhaps it’s the particular mixture of personalities, perhaps it’s the format – whatever the reason, I’ve often wondered why my group has been so beneficial to each member throughout the years, whereas others often struggle.
So what’s the magic recipe? Likely a mixture of ingredients:
*We limit the group members to six – a mixture of styles, of genres, of personal quirks – and meet in the evenings the first Wednesday of every month. We take turns hosting at our homes, so if all goes as planned we each host twice a year. (Sometimes this can go off-kilter if one of us has to leave town for a good spell, as I did.)
*Three submissions are on the docket, which means that each of us is expected to submit our work every other month. As an added plus, this helps us keep our writing on schedule. No excuses, no sit-downs. Gotta meet that deadline!
*Submissions should be at least 10 and no more than 25 double-spaced pages. These must be forwarded via email the week prior. However, sometimes lapses occur; I’ve groaned and uttered unmentionables when pages are late, and don’t show up until the weekend before our meeting.
* We each print every submission, read it carefully, note comments on the manuscript, and add a critique at the end. This guarantees that whoever submits will have written critiques and comments from five others – each with a different perspective.
* During the meeting, we decide which manuscript to discuss first, then begin. We take turns speaking, uninterrupted – well, usually. We try to keep our comments within a reasonable length of time, so we’re not staggering away, dazed, after midnight.
* The generally accepted rules of our critiquing are: Begin and end with the positive. Avoid the phrase, “I don’t like” without specifics; otherwise it’s not helpful. Point to what works and what doesn’t, and say why. Offer suggestions, reactions, clarifications. Edit the usual glitches, such as word repetition, grammar goofs, typos, and so on. If the submission is part of a continuing work, note any inconsistencies in plot or character or theme, etc.
* Did I mention that we have dinner, too? Believe me, that’s a huge plus. The host supplies dinner, wine (lots of it), and dessert. We supply the camaraderie. Usually we eat the main meal first, critique two submissions, pause for dessert, then critique the last. Sometimes we critique all three, then pause and linger over dessert.
However we do it, one thing is for sure: these are my friends, writers all, talented and generous-hearted. They have encouraged me, supported me, critiqued with humor and perception and clarity, and helped me form Hidden Shadows from a mix-mash of puzzle pieces into the final picture.
I wish the same could be true for every writer.