Most writers know it is helpful to have a writing group with critique partners to get feedback. They also might know book clubs are a great way to talk about books with fellow bibliophiles. But, what about a book club with your critique partners? If you are just starting out with a new writing group and are thinking about how to set it up, you may find this helpful as well.
First of all, you might be wondering:
Where can I find critique partners?
There is a great article about 50 Best Online Critique Circles that I recommend. I love Scribophile and found my current writing group with Meetup. In the past, I also found a writing group by connecting with some other students from an online writing class I took with Gotham Writer's Workshop.
It is easier to find a group of writers, and then asking them to add a book study element to the group than incorporate writing into your book club. So, I would recommend starting there first.
Book clubs with my critique partners has revolutionized my writing world and I want to share the reasons why below:
1. Shared reference point for feedback with craft books.
It is a great idea to start with writing craft books. A list of some good ones to start with is here. Even if you have read some of these before, reading them again together as a group offers a chance to go deeper in the materials by talking it out with others. Reading a craft book and then moving back to giving each other critiques on your work helps you to connect to an actual craft point as a critiquer instead of just some kind of impression or feeling related to the work, though that kind of feedback can be helpful as well.
2. Enhance knowledge of writing craft in general.
Of course, your knowledge will grow by discussing these books together and also connecting with your own personal writing processes and relating what you are learning to issues you are facing in your current work in progress. Several craft books also have exercises you can do together which might give you some freedom to not always connect it with whatever longterm project you are working on. Doing the exercises can also help pin point the strengths and weaknesses of the group members with a particular craft point.
3. Gives you accountability.
This is one of the biggest points of book clubs in general for most people. If you have a deadline it can make sure you actually finish the book in time. For myself, I had a huge amount of craft books in my TBR pile and never got to most of them until we had a set reading schedule with my writing group. It is also easy to skip over those exercises they recommend, but if the other critique partners say they will do it, I will need to join in. The craft books aren't always what to do in your writing, but in the ways you go about your process and sometimes a piece of homework for the group is to try something new out in your own project and report on the progress the following meeting. If you want to read more about adding a sense of fun to your writing process you can check out my blog post with fifty ideas here.
4. Study literature together and analyze the masters.
After studying five writing craft books the previous year, this year my writing group focused on Alice Munro's short stories. I wrote about some take aways from one of her stories Dance of the Happy Shades here. We were all very busy so short stories were more manageable in terms of reading and breaking down the story structures and focusing on the character arcs. Discussing story with writers is different than with non-writers, it brings up questions about the author's choices and what elements we can bring into our own work. And yet, we still get the benefits of a typical book club where we connect to the material and reflect on our past experiences that resonate with the piece.
5. Identify patterns in what your critique partners value.
Discussing work that is not done by people within the group tells you a lot about their own strengths and weaknesses in craft and also what they value in good writing. I learn so much about the people that give me feedback by the way they talk about literature and of course, by reading a lot of their own work as well. This helps me in deciding which elements of their critique I should pay particular attention to in my own writing.
6. Keeps the writing group going.
At times with your writing circle it is possible that people aren't in a place where they are ready to share their writing, even though they are progressing on a novel.
I like the way Stephen King describes this in his writing craft book On Writing as closed door writing : “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right — as right as you can, anyway — it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it."
As I was writing an earlier draft of my novel, I felt like the critiques were doing more damage than help because I was still telling myself the story still. Or sometimes everyone is too busy to keep up a schedule of having new material to critique. Reading craft books and analyzing literature gives you a reson to keep meeting, because once you let too much time go between sessions it is very easy for the group to fall apart. The continued energy of the group and meeting with other writers regularly can help give you some inspiration to get back to work if you are in a slump. (I think I have come to the realization that slumps are necessary for me, though they can be uncomfortable.)
7. Noticing how the Greats Break the "Rules" together.
Problems we tend to have in our writing are easy to see in others. "Hey, why does Alice Munro use so many adverbs in this?" A great discussion point, as a group you can dig a bit deeper in why what they are doing works and why when you do it, it doesn't. Hint: Lately, I have found when a master breaks a rule, it contributes to showing instead of telling. I did a deep dive into filter words in this blog post, if you are interested. Pinpointing my issue with fitler words helped me to show and not tell so much in my writing.
Yes, you could do analyze books on your own, but I know I am way less likely without the accountability of the group to do this important work. Also, I have blindspots that I struggle with and can't make sense of without processing it with other people. Hence, why education is moving towards so much group work or collaborative learning in schools. It works!
Do you think you will start a book club with your critique partners? Do you already have one? Are you planning on setting up a writing group soon? Please leave a comment below.