On a Tuesday night, every other week (más o menos subject to the dictates of the school calendar), you can find me at one of the back tables of the Metro Diner with my amazing and wonderful critique group. My group, which includes Jacki Morris and Joanne French, has been meeting at the Metro Diner for the past 3 plus years. And what makes my group a tad different is that we meet with our writing teacher and mentor, the incredible, amazing, you take my breath away (Wait! I’m not done!), and the absolute, best editor EVER: Jill Davis. (Please see my interview with Jill, https://robinnewmanbooks.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/the-amazing-jill-davis/)
As I’ve come to learn, having a critique group, not to mention a good one, is priceless.
A bit of backstory . . . I met Jacki and Joanne back in 2007 in a Gotham children’s fiction writing class. At the end of the class, some of my classmates asked our then-teacher if she would do a private workshop with us and five or six of us began to meet with her once a week. Little by little the group dwindled down to the three of us and then our teacher had to stop teaching. So, we tried critiquing our own work. And although that was extremely helpful (and obviously still is!), we missed having the input from someone in the know to guide us. And if there were ever such a thing as a lucky charm or star guiding us, it fell in our laps the day Jill said she’d take us on.
How does our group work? We don’t have a set agenda. We submit manuscript to each other via e-mail every other week. (When we met with our previous teacher, we submitted once a week. But for those of us with kids, this schedule was too unforgiving. By the end of the 10-week session, we found that we were really losing steam and just burning out.)
The nuts and bolts of our class involve plowing through our manuscripts, figuring out what’s working and what’s not. Jill takes the lead and she will often bring in books to dissect or suggest tools that will help us hone our skills. At our last meeting, we discussed story boarding and using the five-act structure (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement) when working on our manuscripts, including even our picture books.
There’s lots of trial and error, and it seems that we’re all learning as we go. But I can say without any doubt, that my editing, writing, and storytelling skills are 100% stronger and better since we’ve been meeting. Now if I could only write something shorter and less complicated . . . but that’s another story.
If you’re interested in starting or joining a critique group, your local chapter of the SCBWI is the place to go.
The SCBWI Metro New York Chapter tries to coordinate authors with appropriate writing groups. For more information, please see: http://metro.nyscbwi.org/critique.htm. Their contact info is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you happen to make it to the Metro Diner, I highly recommend the chicken souvlaki or the vegetarian frittata.