Yes, I wish I were affiliated with Pixar, but alas--not today.
Anyway, a kindly neighbor with a great Kentucky drawl brought this magazine article to our house the other day featuring Pixar's braintrust. This is a group of storytellers, filmmakers, smart people, etc., who get together, watch Pixar's movies in development, and give honest feedback. Sometimes this takes movies in a completely new direction, sometimes the movies are scrapped altogether, and sometimes they spark an idea that makes a great movie a Pixar wonder.
Writers, I hear your collective thoughts right now. Yes indeed, it IS just like a great critique group. So with this in mind and a great many critique groups having come my way through the years, I want to underline the fabulous points the article made about how great critique groups work--call it a braintrust if you will, it's still a critique group.
1. The author is the boss. Oh my goodness, there are some critiquers who are adamant that their suggestions must be taken or your manuscript will burst into flames. Nope. It won't. And even though you may have ultra-bossy critiquers, you are the author and you must feel free to be so.
2. Storytellers are your best bet for critique buddies...at least that's how the article slants. I know many who are happy with good readers who've never thought to write on their own...but they have to be readers and not just people who like you enough to wade through your manuscript. Basically what you want is honesty from someone with perspective on the craft.
3. I liked that the article said what you want are people who can give you a great many ideas in a short amount of time. I can vouch for this being liberating. Instead of one thing you can do to improve your story, it's nice to have many things to choose from. When you're making something up from scratch, it helps to remember that there isn't one correct path. There really isn't. And it helps you remain in control, too. Let idea lead to idea. Then you can choose the best from a bunch, not just the one you thought of first or the one the bossy critiquer is pushing.
4. Finally, you need to do your part when you're critiquing. Express what's going right with a manuscript, SOMETHING is going right. And offer honest feedback. I know it's hard--if they don't want your honesty, they'll quit coming to you. But any writer worth print must learn to love the honesty. So be that honest, affirming, idea-offering critiquer. Don't be the bossy one. Offer suggestions, offer ideas, and realize that your idea sitting there in a room full of people is just one of many and you are not the author, nor (probably) the best critiquer on the planet, so keep it in perspective.
5. Take your critiques with a smile and a thank you. You can write mean things about your critique group in your journal at home afterward, if need be, but they are trying and they gave you their time, even if you didn't like what they had to say.
So there you go. Everyone can be a little Pixar, even if you're currently, well, not part of Pixar.