Monday, March 05, 2007

The Chicago Contingent: Why We Rock

I am very fortunate to be a part of a wonderful critique group, something that many writers struggle to find. The original members were all handpicked by Patricia Rosemoor, our professor at Columbia. We had all taken either her Suspense Thriller writing or Writing Popular Fiction class and wanted to continue working on our books after the semester had ended. Now, most of us have completed our manuscripts, Marcus Sakey and Andre Frieden each have books out, and Marc Paoletti has two novels due out next year. I'd say that as a group, we're doing pretty well.

Aside from having a talented group of writers, there are many reasons our critique group works as well as it does. For starters, all but one of us attended Columbia College at some point in time. We are familiar with both giving and receiving feedback. We know how to read critically, to listen both as readers and writers. Many writers never attend writing workshops or go through a creative writing program; they only have themselves to critique. But because we are all familiar with Columbia's method there is a level of understanding when making comments or receiving them.

Although we all write genre fiction, everyone is working on something different. We have a couple of YA authors, one espionage, and a few crime/mystery/thriller writers. I find variety refreshing, even though it is sometimes jarring to go from a serial killer thriller to a Young Adult fantasy book with fairies and giants. But I think that it is important that we are all writing novels, and it helps that they are all genre fiction. I don't know how effectively I could comment on a play or poetry; prose is what I know. In my opinion, maintaining a certain level of uniformity within the group is important.

On that note, because we are all writing genre novels, the writing group also serves as a support system when it comes to publishing or getting an agent. Now that many people in our group are beginning the querying process, they are turning to the members who have agents for advice. When it comes to publishing, everyone has a different experience and it helps to know people who are going through the same thing. When I got offers from two agents (both exciting and nerve racking) I turned to Marcus for advice. He also had offers from two agents, knew what I was going through, and gave me the best piece of advice I could have gotten: have a beer. Which I did. And it helped. When another member of our group finished her novel and was ready to begin the agent search, three of us sent her the spreadsheets of all our agent research. When Marc Paoletti's book got picked up by Five Star, Andre and I gave him blurbs. We all have a goal, to succeed in the writing industry. Our writing group isn't just about getting feedback, it's about coming together and helping each other out.

I'm not going to say that a writer needs a critique group in order to be successful. I will say that personally, I need my critique group. I think I'd lose my mind without it. But if you're searching for a writing group, keep these things in mind. It's not just about getting feedback or hearing other people's work. It's a group, a network, and for it to be effective, everyone needs to gel. I know that Backspace has tons of people looking for writing groups, but for me, it would be a little weird to get together with a bunch of strangers. If you go to writer's conferences or readings, network with local authors, find out if they have writing groups. I think the most important thing about the people in a writing group is that they respect each other's work and that they can have fun together. Writer's conferences and readings are perfect places to do both.

Anyone else form a critique group? How did it come about? Please leave comments, advice, additions to my ramblings, etc.

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