Last night my writers group met. This is a public, regional group. We meet monthly and two members present a work in progress, often an essay, poem, or short story, sometimes 5,000 words from a longer piece. We are a varied membership, including published authors, aspiring authors, writing faculty from local universities, and people who are curious and think they want to write. I’m sometimes asked about the value of such a group and how it differs from Beta readers. Most clearly, the difference is that a Beta reader is committed to ‘this project.’ The project they have agreed to read. I think Beta readers should appreciate, and hopefully read widely, in the genre of the manuscript, but most importantly they are reading as a ‘reader.’ They may not be writers at all. Good readers, widely read and critically thinking readers are invaluable for writers. They are the perfect Beta reader. A writing group is full of people who want to write (writers must also be readers, but that is a topic for another day). Members of a writing group hope to hone craft. They hope to learn from the struggles of others, and to in turn make a contribution to the success of their fellow writers. They want comradery in their common quest for excellence. If you are establishing a writing critique group be clear in your goals, the time commitment, and the ground rules of criticism. Here’s a bit about how ours works.
- Monthly meeting. We meet for 30 minutes of food and beverage with conversation, followed by a two-hour time slot for the actual critique. This schedule helps us get to know each other in the social time and keep the critique portion on a different professional plane. We rarely use the full two hours for critique.
- We have established the length of the pieces allowed, and the readers have a long weekend between submission and meeting.
- We meet in a public place (restaurant or café) so everyone feels comfortable. This also allows us to be an ‘open to the public group’ and we benefit from the diversity and slow churn of membership. The submissions are emailed to the group, but the meeting notice is in the newspaper and on our Facebook page.
- Although not written, we do have rules. Mostly we ask that criticism be polite in spirit and tone. We also suggest that the author absorb the commentary without being defensive. The author can ask questions if the criticism isn’t clear, but otherwise try to accept the advice as given.
I wouldn’t trade my Beta readers for anything, but my writers group has a special role in my writing world. If you aren’t part of one, consider joining or creating your own.