Monday, August 19, 2013

Critique Group Week: Meet the Tighty Writeys!

They're tight, they write, and sheesh, they're a prolific bunch! Let's hear how this group gets along, with a behind-the-scenes peek at their monthly methods....

1. How many members do you have?
We currently have nine regularly attending members: Curtis Manley, Jeanie Mebane, Laurie Thompson, Lois Brandt, Kevan Atteberry, Susan Greenway, Arlene Williams, Dana Sullivan, Dan Richards

2. How long has the group been together? 
Some of us have been critiquing together in various forms for almost 10 years. Our group has come together from combining the surviving members of two dwindling groups several times until we finally got to a stable number of committed children’s book authors and illustrators. It took a long time, but it’s been worth it.

3. Do you focus on single or multiple genres?
Although we all write and/or illustrate for children, we have critiqued members’ work ranging from board books to adult, short stories to novels, fiction and nonfiction, even poetry and illustrations. We also critique each other’s query letters, cover letters, outlines, titles, portfolios, teaching materials, etc. Anything goes!

4. How often do you meet? Where? 
We meet two evenings every month in the cafĂ© of a local grocery store on the Eastside. The store is happy to have us because we often buy dinner, snacks, drinks, and even celebration supplies! Many of us grab some groceries after the meeting, too. It’s fairly
quiet in the evenings and we’re usually the only ones there, so it works out well for everyone.

5. What has been your group's biggest challenge(s)? How have you resolved it/them? 
 As I mentioned above, finding that stable core of committed members was the biggest challenge, and being willing to evolve, combine with other groups, and add new people is how we finally resolved it.

6. What is the format of your meetings? What seems to work best for the group (writing exercise to start, then single/double critiques, etc.)
As people arrive, they put the work they are bringing to have critiqued in the middle of the table. Each person with something to be read brings enough printed copies for everyone (or close, anyway). We usually chat and catch up on everyone’s writing news for the first few minutes, then we dive into the pile. The work gets handed out to everyone in the group and someone who hasn’t seen it before volunteers to be the reader. They read it out loud, while everyone else follows along and makes notes. Then we go around the table and give our feedback. We aren’t formal about it, and we interrupt each other and get into discussions all the time, but it works for us because we’re all comfortable enough with each other to make sure our opinions get heard. We work our way through all the pieces to be read and then say goodnight!

7. What is the key to a successful group dynamic?
Well, first and foremost is Curtis! He does all the organizing for us, sending out the reminder emails and taking a tally of who is coming and who has work to be read. He keeps us on track and is the glue that holds us all together, in addition to spearheading some of the group mergers. Thank heaven for Curtis!
Second is a spirit of flexibility and openness. We’re always willing to try something new and experiment with new methods to fit the situation. For example, we’ll email full manuscripts to each other for whole novel critiques or if someone couldn’t make it to a meeting (to get critiqued or to give feedback). Lately, our illustrators have been showing their sketches and dummies on iPads instead of bringing printed copies. Sometimes we don’t actually critique work, but will brainstorm ideas for a plot point or character or title together instead, if that is what the group member needs to get unstuck. I guess we only
have two rules: Be encouraging but honest, and come (if possible) even if you don’t have work to share.

8. Any quirky group rituals? Inspirational rituals? Favorite snacks?
Most of us drink hot tea. And we always dive in if anyone brings chocolate.
Thanks to Arlene, we’ve started a recent tradition of having a little celebration party with gigantic cupcakes and sparkling cider whenever anyone has major good news.
We also are on email with each other sharing news, asking questions, and cracking jokes almost every day.

9. If there is anything you'd like to add that would bring your group to life for Chinook readers, please spill the beans!
When we started, almost none of us were published or agented. Now we all are either agented or published, or both. We’ve come a long way together, and we’re committed to one another’s success.
(Dana insists our group’s name is the Tighty Writeys, but the rest of us aren’t so sure....)


EmilyBR said...

Love these features on the critique groups! Great idea!!!

Kirby Larson

Joni said...

I like 'em, too -- nice!