Craft Book Read-Along: Writing Picture Books – Critique Groups

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Critiquing is one of my favorite things to do. I love to dissect a story and figure out what makes it work — and what could work better. And what better way to procrastinate over my own writing than by picking apart someone else’s?

Chapter 18 of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS by Ann Whitford Paul has many great tips for finding and hosting a critique group (she’s published some of these on her blog), as well as a comprehensive list of questions to help guide the critique process.

I currently belong to two online critique groups. I also occasionally exchange manuscripts with 7 or 8 writers outside of these groups, whom I’ve met in classes, in conferences, and online. Here’s a list of places where I’ve found these writing partners:

  • Community education classes. My very first critique exchanges were with writers I met through a picture book writing class at my local arts-education center.
  • Verla Kay’s Blueboards includes a place where you can request a critique swap with other writers.
  • Online writing challenges like Picture Book Idea Month and the 12×12 picture book writing challenge are good places to make connections.
  • I’ve picked up a few writing partners from SCBWI conferences. These are great, too, because there’s a chance these people live near you and could meet in person.
  • WriteOnCon, a free children’s writing conference, is another way to make connections.

Why critique? In her book, Ann Whitford Paul compares writing a story to a triangle.

One side is you, the writer. Another side is your words. But it’s not a complete triangle until that bottom line, a reader, brings them together.

Unless you are scrawling away in a journal, eventually your words are going to be read by someone else — with luck, lots of someone elses. It’s important to find out how your words are being received by readers. Further, not every reader reacts the same way to every piece of writing. If we did, we’d all love the same books. Having a wide and varied group enables you to gather reactions from many different readers before making changes.

Focusing on other writers’ work and trying to analyze what you like and don’t like about it helps develop your own skill as a writer. And trust me, there’s no better way to procrastinate…

School is winding down, summer is here, and next week I will post my final check in for this read-along.

12 thoughts on “Craft Book Read-Along: Writing Picture Books – Critique Groups

  1. Great post. I especially like the triangle analogy. Good critique partners are so valuable not only because they let others see and comment your work, but because you gain editorial skilll and insight by reading others’ pieces as well.

    • I really liked that triangle analogy too, Laura. The reader is a key part of any piece of writing since it is in the reader’s heart and mind that the story is actually created.

  2. I agree with you and Laura – I learn great deal by reading work from others in my crit group. It helps me understand what might not be working in my own draft. After reading stacks of illustrated picture books each week, reading a text-only work that is ‘in progress’ helps me think differently about words, scenes and page turns. Plus, there are author-illustrators in the group which is an invaluable perspective!

    • It’s true, Cathy, reading published PBs is great, but reading works-in-progress is just as helpful, if not more so.

      I didn’t end up taking any, but I was drawn to some of the illustrator sessions at the NESCBWI conference. Sometime it might be nice to attend some of those and get a sense of how the illustrators think.

  3. Great post, Carrie! Crit partners are so important. I’m wondering if your first local pb class at the arts ed center was the Cambridge Center. I’m curious because that’s where I took my first writing class oh so many years ago.

    • This one was at the Arlington Center for the Arts, but I’ve also taken classes at the Cambridge Center and they’ve all been good (things other than writing). I should look into their writing program.

  4. I got this book from one of my local critique partners…and you’ve done a stellar job sharing some of the info, Carrie! I’m only sorry I haven’t been following each post…I’m going to go back into your archives. And you shouldn’t denigrate your critiquing abilities…you are AMAZING! And the pitch whisperer as well.:) I’m looking forward to reading one of your wonderful stories on the 15th.:)

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