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     What a wealth of talent, when you think about it. So many hundreds ... thousands? ... of critique groups around the country and world. Writers sharing their work, ideas, and knowledge. Many times, when I read the comments and thoughts of my fellow Cookie Club online critiquers, I'm reminded of the myriad of adult novels that center around knitting groups or book clubs. They have nothing on us.

     I guarantee you, the things that a group of children's book writers talk about would boggle their minds and scorch their souls. The revelations and secrets of childhood. The scars revealed. The universal hurts and quiet triumphs that are the basis of all human experience. The sheer ludicrousness of being a child. That's the stuff we talk about. Write about.

     And no one can beat us for the ridiculous. I'll never forget the time I sat with a critique group of twelve at Vermont College and seriously discussed the authenticity of the "fleaness" of the main character - a flea - in one of the writers' picture books.

     But to get back to online critique groups ... they provide different things for different people. I imagine that the people in your groups feel much the same way the members of the Cookie Club do about ours.

     Some of us like the online experience for the distance it provides. Not distance from friends, but between critical comments and their work:

"Perhaps because we aren't sitting in each other's living rooms, the personal connections we feel aren't intrusive in the critiquing process. In fact, they help enormously because I think we understand each other so well, we're able to laugh a lot and keep each other from tipping over into terminal navel-staring." Miriam Glassman

     "... while we relish the time we can be together and share more personal stuff, we pretty much stick to reflections on the writing life and critiquing in our online communications. The waters don't get muddied with other topics, and I like that. I can open emails from any of the Cookies and know that they will deliver thoughts, reactions, information, and suggestions on the one endeavor we all pursue." Candy Dahl

       Others in our group talk about the way it provides the human, writerly touch they can't find where they live:

     "My online group is my main lifeline to sanity and, in a real way, success. I depend on their honesty when something stinks, their encouragement to move ahead (or begin again), and their keen insight into what is working in a particular story." Stephanie Parlsey

       Dianne White said, "Our CC online conversations are ongoing and frequent. We've had tremendous discussions back and forth about a wide range of topics - all via email. Granted, it's not the same as sitting around a kitchen table, or chatting it up fireside, but it's still wonderfully rewarding."

     Then there's the benefit of the medium, itself. "An advantage of online for me is the immediacy of email," Nancy Bo Flood wrote from Arizona. "Pow, I get hit with a problem and I can email my group and receive a half dozen responses, usually the same day."

     "We 'meet' as much or as little as we like," Ann Jacobus wrote from Paris. "We check in at least once a week, sometimes daily. My local group meets, at most, once a month or even every six weeks to two months, depending on travel schedules. Online, distance means nothing. There's an intimacy that the combination of emails and distance encourages."

     So, to all of you and your critique groups, however and whenever you meet, here's from the Cookie Club to you: good writing, great friendship, much success.



( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 26th, 2009 04:34 pm (UTC)
My first critique group met twice a month at a bookstore. While I learned a lot over the 6 years I've been with it, I decided last year that I needed a group that focuses on writing for children. Leaving a critique group isn't easy and neither is joining a new one. But my new writing group has been so warm and welcoming, I already feel a sense of kinship with the members. For those of us who need community and camaraderie but still keep our cave-existence, online groups are perfect, especially those whose members are all crazy about writing, and who treat everyone with courtesy and respect.

Mar. 26th, 2009 07:57 pm (UTC)
Courtesy and respect. It never fails to amaze me how much children's book writers do treat one another that way. I've been part of adult fiction critique groups where it was no holds barred and man the torpedos. Really brutal comments and delivery without any apparent consideration for feelings. I'm so glad you've found a new group you feel a kinship with. SCBWI conferences and retreats are also good places to run into like-minded souls. Best of luck.
Mar. 26th, 2009 10:45 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this post. I'm dying to start an online group, but was feeling the "will this work" anxiety. You've helped me believe.
Mar. 27th, 2009 11:42 am (UTC)
I'm glad, Janet. You can start an online group and set your parameters upfront to avoid any issues. It's really quite smooth, once it gets going. SCBWI conferences and retreats are great places to meet like-minded writers, too. I hope it works out for you.
Mar. 31st, 2009 10:07 pm (UTC)
Oh so very true!! And I love that my critique group takes topics like "fleaness" to a whole new level of importance. I recently had a terrific discussion with one of my editors about hand-knit diorama art for a PB, and whether readers overtly or subliminally appreciate the work that goes into it. Outside of the kidlit circles, folks would label us certifiable for sure.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )