Saturday, August 4, 2012

With a Little Help From My Friends - Tips for Starting a Writers' Critique Group

Guest post by Joan Leotta
As a writer and a performer, I can say that a critique group has been central to modest success, earning a fair amount over the years from hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, and once in a while having the time to send out a poem or short story or even a book proposal--some of which have met success. Being in a writing group gives me a deadline and forces me to do what all writers know is really a great exercise, read my work aloud. The comments that dissect my work, whether I agree or disagree on the specifics, usually changes my work for the better. I hope this is true for my comments on the work of my fellow writers too. The group is also a source of information in the writing world beyond my own narrow interests.

In Northern Virginia, my first group started in a library with fifteen strangers and eventually reduced itself to four women. The group was eclectic---fiction, non-fiction, adult, children's and even poetry. We read to each other and commented on each other's work in progress, shared market tips, and celebrated successes and frustrations.

When I moved to North Carolina, one of the first things I did was find another critique group. My new group is also wonderful. We read, we share, and we write.

If there is not a group near you to join, here are some tips for forming one:
*        Decide what you want the group to be like--critique, exchange information, reading, all of the above?
*        Advertise your intent at the library or community center and among any friends you know who write.
*        It is generally easier to limit the type of work to be read and critiqued. My current group is adult fiction and non-fiction.
*        Define "critique" for the group at the first meeting. If the members do not know one another well, put the rules for critique in writing. A good critique begins with a positive comment, asks what the writer's intent is, and structures all other comments with the goal of making the writing better meet that intent
*        At that first meeting, stress that each person needs to be committed to making the other person's work more refined the otherperson's work and stronger.
*        Limit the amount of time each person has to share, read, and be critiqued -- bring a bell or timer to signal the time to change -- so that no one person dominates and each person has the same time.
*        Select a place and time that seems good for the person who will run the group and begin.
Everyone's work benefits when we polish the gems of others as well as our own.

Joan Leotta has been writing and performing since childhood. Her motto is "Encouraging words through pen and performance.” Her newest work, Giulia Goes to War is book one of a four part series, Legacy of Honor  that traces the women of a family and how they find love and independence from WWII era through the Desert Storm era.

Joan’s articles, short stories, and photography have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. She performs folklore shows and one-woman shows on Civil War and Revolutionary war figures at venues up and down the east coast and teaches writing, creativity, and storytelling for children and adults. She lives in Calabash, NC with husband Joe. You can learn more about her at and can contact her to speak to your group at .


Giulia Goes to War, Legacy of Honor Volume One
Anna Maria DeBartolo shook her graying head as she marched up and down in the small space in front of the kitchen sink. "I am a loyal American. We have a Victory Garden. I send my cans to the surplus drive." With the wooden spoon she held in her hand, she gestured toward the front of the house and the dining room window facing Main Street and continued, "I have two blue stars in the window -- both of your brothers are serving or did you forget, Giulia?...No! E unadisgrazia!"

Giulia gains her independence while still remaining a loving daughter and makes a life for herself in Wilmington, contributing to the war effort while beginning a romance with a boy who is not Italian -American, and saving the Wilmington shipyard from a spy's planned terrorist act in this action packed adventure of a young girl on the Home Front in World War II.,

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