Over the years I’ve heard so many pros and cons about joining a critique group, I decided to write about a successful group that’s been around for about 23 years. Yes, that’s right, and I’ve been a member, and co-chair of the group for exactly that long. Guess that makes me a co-founder as well. The only other original member in the group is western writer and Double Spur award winner, Dusty Richards.
Since that time, we’ve met once a week except when the majority are attending a conference. We formed the group after attending a few others which didn’t fit our needs. Some were self-praise rather than critique groups, others were so harsh with other writers they went away in tears.
When we began none of us were published, there were about a dozen or so and we gave writing assignments in order to keep everyone writing. Over the years we’ve evolved into a group of working writers who never need an assignment because all are working on a book or article or short story. Other things have changed too. Though we’ve never publicized our group, once the word got out we began to attract more and more writers. We’ve had to limit the reader to five double spaced pages. At times not everyone gets to read, but they are first on the list the next week.
A strict rule is we never put out the flame of struggling writers. Praise alone does not help, but we are gentle with our suggestions, careful not to “mess with” voice, and quick to help in any way we can. We’ve taught how to write queries, how to pitch, and anything else requested, but for the most part we are a critique group. We gather around 6 p.m., begin promptly at 6:30. No more gossiping or joking around. It’s down to business until 8:45 when we have to begin to clear out of the building.
Six years ago, soon after we found a free meeting room that also offers larger facilities, we began to hold a free all-day conference once a year. Published writers give of their time to teach and speak, and Dusty and I finish off the day teaching what we’ve learned since we began to be published in the early 90s.
We are very fortunate in Northwest Arkansas to have a Family Center founded by the late Harvey and Bernice Jones, the owners of Jones Truck Lines. Their endowment built and maintains the Jones Family Center in Springdale, which has free meeting rooms, ice skating rink, basketball courts, tracks, olympic swimming pool and various other offerings, all free to the public. The only string attached is that “all who enter these doors behave as ladies and gentlemen.”
This generous family made it possible for our writer’s group, a children’s writer’s group, art groups, and many others to have a comfortable place to hold meetings and conferences. Thus, we’ve been able to continue since most churches and other foundations charge a large fee for meeting rooms. We have never charged anything for writers to come to our group, and many have gone on to be published over all the years we’ve been in the business of helping writers.
Granted, no crituque group can be all things to all writers, and we urge those who pay us a visit to check around and make sure they find what is best for them. With a membership of around 30, we have no need to attract more members. We’re also grateful that they don’t all attend every week. Most week finds a dozen to fifteen writers in attendance.
So if you’re looking for a good critique group and can’t find one, think about starting one yourself.