Three weeks ago, I embarked on a class at RISD, as a student this time round. A few weeks before that, I found myself co-creating a new critique group. It’s a great time for me creatively, and in part because I am sharing a greater sense of community. There is so much to learn from listening to other people talk about your work, about listening and talking to others about theirs.
If you have been my client you will have read my thoughts on the importance of a critique group. If you have taken one of my classes, you will have heard me speak often and passionately about the necessity of a writing/creating community, of a critique group, of not going this path alone.
So I now belong to two critique groups, both small—three people in each—which for me is the magic number. A critique group of three, if working well, provides the right amount of exchange without being overwhelming, and a focused and lengthy time spent on not just the nuts and bolts of each person’s work, but on discussion of process and other matters, the kinds of things a writer goes through in solitude, which must be shared if one is not only to write, but to stay mentally healthy while doing so. It can provide a gentle intimacy, and often grows into real friendship.
Both of my critique groups are wonderful. Both work and work well. And each group came into being almost effortlessly, almost spontaneously, which I think really counts for something.
One takes place in an unusual flat-roofed home, down a path past a Japanese maple, lush groundcover, large rocks. There are sculptures in the house and exotic artifacts, prints and paintings that evoke more spiritual, darker, or more thoughtful times and different cultural traditions. There are wine and sweet treats, glimpses of hummingbirds in summer, an opossum in winter. I always look forward to that environment, and it always feels both an adventure and like coming home. The other, so far, takes place in either an unexpected city tree house of sorts, or on a cricket-sung, firefly-flickering porch. It is too new yet to know where or even if it will settle, but no doubt there will always be music. Each experience in both groups is an unceasing free flow of energy, exchange from writer to writer, artist to artist. Each is warm and generous. And it’s lots of fun.
If you don’t have a critique group, I hope you’ll find one. If you start or join a critique group with the right people, and if you really give yourself to a mutual sharing of work, ideas, comfort, and understanding, it will be one of the best decisions you ever make. Not sure where to start? There are various ways, but for children’s book writers, your regional branch of SCBWI is the very best place to begin.
Now go find the fellow creative folk who fit with you, who feed your craft, fuel your ideas, and whose work and process you really care about. I could wish you no greater pleasure…except maybe a large book deal… but even then you’d need someone to share it with who’d really get what it took to get you there, and who was with you along the way, and who understood with no explanation in the first place the need to be a writer.
Go on, find them—off you go!