The saga of my relationship with crit groups continues…
Somewhere along the line I discovered and joined Critters Workshop. Established in 1995, Critters is an online crit group for speculative fiction writers that boasts 10,000 members. Membership is free, and anyone may join. It is governed by a set of sensible and well considered rules, as well it must be to wrangle that many members from all over the world of varying levels of skill. I’ve been an on-again, off-again member for several years. Currently I’m off-again, and likely to remain so for the forseeable future, because I get all I need from the other groups I belong to.
Convenience is a big factor in choosing an online group over a face-to-face one. I hate to think how many thousands of dollars I have spent driving all over two countrysides to attend crit groups, or how many hours I have spent away from my needy family (although, some might say that the hours spent away from a needy family is a plus). Online groups are much like online shopping, in that you can participate in them naked at 2 a.m. if you want to.
In the end, the sheer size and egalitarianism of Critters turned me off it. I would routinely get 20 to 30 critiques to each piece I submitted. Sometimes it seemed like I was spending more time reading the crits than I was writing the story in the first place. In a face-to-face group, you build up a rapport with some members, and what could be described as an anti-rapport with others. It usually comes down to a matter of personal taste – there are some people who simply are never going to be fans of your work. No matter how fair and evenhanded they are, this is going to colour their critiques, and you can weigh their opinions accordingly. It’s not so easy to figure out on Critters, although some writers will try to help you (“I don’t usually like urban fantasy, but I decided to read your story anyway, and… yep, I still don’t like it.”).
Now, don’t let me put you off – if you’re new to specfic writing or to crit groups, Critters can be an amazing resource. As I mentioned, it’s free, convenient, and open to all, so you have little to lose except time, and much to gain, by giving it a go.
My membership in Critters has resulted in my being invited to join two other online crit groups, Writers of Extraordinary Visions, and more recently, Hopefull Monsters. Both groups arose out of an enjoyment of an online community and a frustration with Critters, and they combine the best of both worlds – the convenience of online networking, and the friendship and familiarity of a face-to-face group. Both groups go beyond critiquing; a lot of the email to-and-fro is spent on brainstorming ideas, sharing news of our victories and defeats, and offering encouragement when spirits are flagging and motivation is low.
Which brings me to SuperNOVA. Several months after moving to Melbourne, I approached them with a view to joining the group. Their website said that they were not seeking new members, but I hoped that either their website was out of date, or that they might bend their rules for me (I still don’t know which was the case). On the surface of it, these guys are “just” another crit group. They meet twice a month, once for a critiquing session and once for an informal brunch. I’ve been attending SuperNOVA for over a year now, and they still intimidate me, although I’m sure they don’t mean to. They’re all nice, normal(ish) people who just happen to be exceptionally talented and experienced. Many of them are published novelists. I don’t know how I persuaded them to let me join. I can only hope that by continuing to sit amongst their ranks, some of their magic will rub off on me.