From upper left, clockwise: Laura Pritchett, Janet Freeman, Carrie Visintainer, moi, Dana Masden, and Karye Cattrell
We meet for a couple hours every two weeks at each other's houses. We talk and laugh and eat and drink and update each other on what's been happening lately in our writing lives. We celebrate each other's successes and commiserate with each other over rejections. We tell each other about conferences, workshops, readings, contests, and other things we might be interested in.
For the second half of the meeting, we critique two members' pieces-usually between five and thirty pages per person. (We read it in advance-the members up for critique submit their pieces a week before the meeting via email.) Each member critiques the piece, going around in a circle, starting with the person on the submitter's right.
We always focus on the positive stuff first- specific things we loved about the piece-and then move into specific things that weren't working for us. The overall atmosphere is fun, productive, creative, warm, and uplifting.
I'll add that I started this group with several other writers back in 2003, three years before my first book was published. Members have come and gone for different reasons-- the mix is ever-changing, which keeps things fresh and interesting-- but we've also formed long and strong friendships from being in the group together. I'm the only one who writes primarily for a young adult market-- the others write fiction and creative non-fiction for adults, both short and book-length. I really don't think I could have published my books without the help of my writing group-- I've truly needed their feedback and encouragement over the years, and still do.They're a HUGE and WONDERFUL part of my writing life!
If you're not in a writers' group and you want to be, you should join one or form your own. That's usually the first bit of advice I give to aspiring authors. Being in a writers' group helps you see your own work through new eyes, which is essential if you're serious about publishing. It's also really important to learn how to handle constructive criticism, and how to use it effectively in your revisions. It's worlds better to develop this skill with your writing group *before* you start revising with an agent or editor. Okay, good luck! :-)
p.s. If you're in the Ft Collins area, stay tuned for our annual reading event coming up, tentatively scheduled for the evening of Dec 5, 2012, at Bas Bleu Theater. So excited about this! More details to come!