Critiquing Versus Brainstorming

The first two writers’ groups I belonged to were traditional critique groups. We would bring up to five pages of text from our WIP and read those pages to the group when it was our turn. We would also print enough copies of our pages for other group members to read along and make notes to critique our work.

This system was an excellent way to get grammatical errors picked apart and to get everyone’s opinion on what a character was wearing or the decor of a room or other such extraneous matters. It was also a pretty good way to get feelings hurt when one of the critiques was a little too harsh.

What critiquing never does is develop a sense of the overall story. How do these five pages fit into a 200 page manuscript? Do they help move the overall story along? Do they develop three-dimensional characters?

After half a dozen or more years in such groups, I didn’t have a clear picture of what an antagonist was. Neither did most of the others in my group.

Thanks to my friendship with Kristen Lamb and her friendship with Bob Mayer, we put together a group for novel writers called Warrior Writers’ Boot Camp. In this group we delved into such things as what an antagonist was, the difference between conflict and just bad situations, writing log lines to guide us in developing our stories, building background bios for our important characters, and other such subjects.

We learned a lot about the nuts and bolts of putting a novel together in the years that group existed, but it finally sorta petered out. After several years of learning that two plus two makes four, it’s time to move on.

Several of us from WWBC formed a new group after that. This group was all about brainstorming. Nobody brought pages to read. No one taught how-to’s of conflict or log lines or protagonists and antagonists. We had no formal agenda. No “Next week we’re going to . . .” We just met and discussed ideas.

As more or less the leader of that group, I failed to bring in new members. I’ve never been good at promoting. Whether it’s my own books or my website or our writers’ group, I suck at promoting, and the group dwindled to the point there are now three of us left to meet, and we meet irregularly. But when one of us calls for help, the others come running.

Last week, I met with Nigel Blackwell for a brainstorming session. Rich Weatherly would have been there, but he had an important event involving a granddaughter.

I had written books 1 and 2 of a 3-book novel, and I needed help. I had two or three possibilities for my book 3 antagonist, and I couldn’t decide which one made most sense. And until I figured that out, I couldn’t build my plot for book 3.

Nigel devoted an hour of his time to discussing possibilities with me, and I began to see what I needed to do. He didn’t say “Forget these two and do this one.” But he helped me focus my thinking to the point I could see where to go.

The critique groups were not wastes of my time. I learned that there were other people out there trying to write books, too—that I wasn’t the only one. I also learned some things about writing, so I can’t call those years a loss. But if I’d never graduated to a different kind of group, I’m sure I’d never have published anything.

The WWBC definitely wasn’t a waste of time. In a couple of years there, I learned more about the craft of novel-writing than in the whole rest of my life. And getting to know people like Jillian Dodd and Kristen Lamb and Nigel Blackwell enriched my life.

But the brainstorming we’ve done for the last few years and that Nigel and Rich and I continue to do has allowed me to blossom as a writer. I’ve got two Christian non-fictions and seven novellas on the market now, and they have all been finished since we started this last group.

What kind of writers’ group do you belong to or have you belonged to? How has it helped you to develop as a writer?

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Writers may not have it all together, but together we have it all.

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For more information about David N. Walker, click the “About” tab above.

For more information about his books, click on “Books” above.

Contact him at dnwalkertx (at) gmail (dot) com or tweet him at @davidnwalkertx.

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About David N. Walker

David N. Walker is a Christian husband, father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years in the health insurance industry, during which time he traveled much of the United States. He started writing about 20 years ago and has been a member and leader in several writers' groups. Christianity 101: The Simplified Christian Life, the devotional Heaven Sent and the novella series, Fancy, are now available in paperback and in Kindle and Nook formats, as well as through Smashwords and Kobo. See information about both of these by clicking "Books" above.
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8 Responses to Critiquing Versus Brainstorming

  1. Thanks, David. We talked about my progress, too, and I get a lot out of just opening my mouth and speaking aloud rather than just keeping things in my head (where everything always works).

    You know I left on Saturday thinking you are pratically the only writer I talk to in person these days! It’s good to meet. I miss our groups.

    Cheers

    Nigel

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have been part of several critique groups, all but one of which were just not for me. We were all at different levels in our careers and I don’t think that was a good fit. I’ve worked in large (5+) groups and small 2-3 groups. What I’ve found works the best for me is a one-on-one partnership where we explore chucks or each other’s WIP’s every month or so. We read several chapters at a time in chronological order so it’s easier to follow the story.

    But most recently I tried an entirely different approach because I found that I was writing to please my critique partner instead of writing my story. Now I write the entire book and then send it out to a group of Beta readers for feedback on the book as a whole. I feel pretty confident that I can catch little things like grammar and typos and such, but I often need help filling in gaps or cutting out the unimportant stuff. That’s where the Beta readers come in really handy.

    I do like brainstorming sessions too. Those are usually a lot of fun.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

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    • It sounds like you do pretty much the same as I do, Patricia. I rarely let anyone read my WIP until I finish it. Once in awhile, however, I find myself stumped on something that prevents me from moving forward. That’s what happened here. I had to decide who my antag was before I could proceed, and the brainstorming with Nigel helped me decide what to do.

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  3. Barb Estinson says:

    It is great that Nigel helped you so much, David. Kudos to you and him both.

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  4. Sharon K. Walker says:

    I have no talent as a writer, but I think you do and am glad you’ve benefited from belonging to writers’ groups. Keep up the great work. I’m really looking forward to your next novel entitled Ruth.

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