On Writing: How to Start and Maintain a Local Critique Group
The most valuable tool you’ll ever have to become a better writer is the local critique group. If you are not involved with one, please seriously consider starting and maintaining one. Here are the guidelines to help you get started:
- Contact any local writer you know. Post notices in grocery stores, mini marts, and post offices with contact information.
- Have a set time and date for your first meeting. It can be at your home or in a local restaurant, library, community social room at a mall, etc.
- Pick one person to be the leader of your group—it probably should be you since the group is your idea—or rotate by having a different leader every time you meet. Choose a central location to meet. (Our group, average of five members, meets at a local Starbucks inside a Target store.)
- Several days before the meeting, email or call everyone to find out who’s bringing something to critique. The leader then plans how much time will be allotted to each writer at the meeting. Example: we have a two-hour meeting once a month. If five of us bring something to be critiqued, we each get about 20-25 minutes total time for the critique. It’s best for the leader to have a timer. We usually limit our pages to about five typed double-spaced pages, but that depends on how many writers want to be critiqued.
- At the meeting, open with the sharing of news, i.e. someone has been accepted for publication, someone is speaking somewhere or having a book signing, writers conferences, etc.
- Each person who has something to critique should bring copies for all members. The author has a choice to:
a. send his work to each member via email attachment ahead of time to have the other writers critique his work and bring a printed version to the meeting
b. have his/her work read aloud by another member while the group critiques with pen
c. have the work read silently while the critiquing is being done.
7. After the reading, each person, other than the writer, discusses the manuscript. The leader should “control” the input by giving each person at the table a turn to speak, going clockwise or counterclockwise. The author is encouraged to offer his/her input. Also, the leader should prevent discussions and personal trivia that chase rabbit trails and have nothing to do with critiquing the manuscript. Then the critiqued copies are handed back to the writer. Fellowship and sharing can take place before or after the entire critiquing session is over.
8. Before dismissing, the next date for the critique meeting should be set.
THE ART OF CRITIQUE-
1. offers a chance to communicate with each other. First, tell the writer what you enjoyed about the story and its strengths. Be positive about something.
2. allows review of what you think needs work: boring opening, weak characters, weak plot, unnatural dialogue, etc.
3. prevents the members not to “over-critique.” Each writer has his own individual voice or style of writing. Other than correcting obvious punctuation, word usage, grammar, and spelling, try not to rewrite the work (especially poetry). Too much critiquing will then morph the author’s work into your work, which is defeating the purpose of the critique group.
4. As the author of the work, you should process the critique comments. Decide if the critique really hit home. Some writers don’t change anything unless they get at least two or three comments about the same area of work. Try not to be offended. Critiquing is a valuable tool to make you a better writer. To err is human; and we’re all human! Be ready to accept change.
5. Remember, you are the final judge of your work.
HAPPY WRITING AND CRITIQUING!