I've posted before about critique groups. What they are. Why they're important. When to form one. Who should be in them. Where to hold them. How to structure them. How to go about critiquing someone's manuscript.
I realized today, after checking my email and finding a submission from every person in my critique group, that groups are always works in-progress. I originally started what I refer to as my "Ogden Group" by posting in the utah children's writers listserv asking if there was anyone in the area that wanted to be in a writing group. My intent was to find people in Ogden (where I live), and instead I got responses from three people. One from Syracuse (an actual place in Utah--not just New York!), Salt Lake City, and Perry (another town I'd never heard of). Each were willing to meet in Ogden, since it turned out to be a sort-of half-way point for everyone. As the founder of the group, I took the liberty to establish rules. Things like, 2500 word limit, starting each critique with things we liked, and limiting each session to only two hours.
The word count we did pretty good with (only going overboard a few times--but nobody really minded that much). Critiques kind of just go however they go, and although we may not alway start out with the things we liked, we always throw them into the mix. Time limit has turned out to be extremely difficult for this particular group. Part of this is because we are not only critique buddies, we are also friends. So, we chat about our lives and changes and everyday stuff. We also tend to wind up on tangents quite a bit, and like to look things up right there if we can't remember a definition or we want to find a better name for our characters.
Sometimes we try to enforce the time limit. And we usually don't do very well. But one thing that has been a little frustrating the past little while is submission deadlines. Originally we planned to send our manuscripts out a week in advance to give everyone a chance to read through and make comments. We got very lax with this, and a couple times nobody submitted or a few didn't and we simply didn't hold our session.
For me, having a writing group means more than just getting someone to comment on what I've written. It's also having a motivation to write new stuff. The problem is, when I don't have strict deadlines, I tend to put off writing new things.
The last time my group met, we decided to choose a specific day AND a specific time that we had to have our manuscripts emailed out. Before our loose deadline was the Friday before we met (we meet on every other Friday), which somehow turned into the Wednesday (meaning two days) before we met. It wasn't working. This time we chose Sunday (to allow the weekend for last-minuters to write) at 11 p.m. to make it a deadline we had to stick to.
I submitted my manuscript almost 12 hours early and was feeling very good about myself. But I couldn't stop checking my email throughout the day to see if my groupies had submitted yet. By the time I went to bed around 8:30, they still hadn't and I worried the deadline wasn't going to work.
This morning I was so happy to see EVERY last one of them had submitted something. And even though one of them was an hour or two late--it worked!
I'm hoping we can stick to this specific deadline thing and stay regular with our critique sessions. But, I've learned that like with any relationship or any aspect of life--writing groups take commitment and continual work. It's a process to find out what works best for certain people. I think for us, we've realized that deadlines need to be specific.