The Dos of a Critique Group

» Posted on Jun 10, 2007 in Blog | 1 comment

After discussing critique groups with many writers, it is clear that a good one is priceless and a bad one is devastating. In fact, many of the writers I interviewed attributed their success at selling to their critique group. The choice to be in a critique group or not to be in one is an individual decision. Being a writer is a lonely profession. No one can understand the ins and outs of this business as well as another writer. The right critique group can ease the loneliness of the profession and give the writer inspiration and support. However, finding the right one is essential and not always an easy task.

The dos of establishing a critique group:

1. Have a balance: For a critique group to work the personalities of the participants must mesh. It doesn’t necessarily mean each member must be the same. In fact, they shouldn’t be. Differing backgrounds and perspectives can enrich your experience in a critique group. In a lot of them the best combination of personalities are ones that are the opposite, which can offer a balance.

Not only should personalities balance but so should the levels of expertise in the group. Many writers I interviewed felt that a group should be comprised of only romance authors because other writers can’t really understand the genre. However, some felt that the differing perspectives of writing were enlightening, and they drew understanding from other areas of writing. In forming your group you have to decide about the mix of your members. You may even want to consider having a person who is a reader as a participant. One critique group I heard about had a male member who wasn’t a writer but gave great feedback on the male outlook.

Another aspect you will want to think about is the balance of talents of the different members. Some writers are strong grammarians while others are great plotters, able to look at the overall structure of the book. Both can enrich a group, depending on what you want out of your critique group.

2. Set rules: One of the first guidelines you need to set is how to give input to the members. It is important not only to point out the problems but what works as well. In some groups it’s stressed not only to point out what is wrong but why you have a problem with something.

It is also important for each person to respect the other members and trust their input in the critiquing process. When giving an opinion about someone’s work, it should be helpful and honest, not critical. Trust is a key element when critiquing.

Other rules needed will cover how much to read, how often you will meet, and where and how to add members to the group. When a new person joins, the dynamics of the group will change. It is vital that the group continues to work well for the members. Often I found critique groups have a rule only to accept a new participant with everyone’s agreement. Some writers expressed their concerns about this because they had been in a group where a new member totally disrupted it and finally the group fell apart or the writer left.

3. Decide the makeup of the group: When you decide to be apart of a critique group, you have to make the decision whether you want to work with one partner or a number of writers. Even the amount of members is an important aspect to consider when joining a group. Many writers work with only one partner. Turnaround time can be an important consideration, especially if the person is prolific. Some writers prefer small groups because it is a more intimate setting for feedback. Some people enjoy participating in a larger group because of the diversity of the feedback. However, that does limit how much can be read each time from the participants.

How the material is presented to the members will have to be decided at the beginning. Some people are uncomfortable with their work being read out loud. One advantage to reading out loud is hearing your own story can offer another perspective of your writing. Hearing your words spoken, especially conversations, gives you can idea if it flows naturally. Another option is to read each person’s writings silently either before the meeting or during the meeting.

Another decision you will have to make is whether you want to critique online or face-to-face. Time can be a deciding factor in whether you participate online or through a physical meeting. One consideration when making this decision is whether you can find people you are compatible with living near you. If you can’t, the Internet might offer you the only chance to be apart of a critique group. Many more writers are turning to the convenience of the Internet for critiquing. I personally prefer face to face because I enjoy talking with my writer friends about the industry before we start critiquing. I also have found it is more personable which gives me good inspiration to keep writing.

4. Having a source for information, support and inspiration: Over and over many writers talked about the support as being one of the main reasons they are in a critique group. So much of writing is done alone that the critique group becomes our social connection to other people in our profession. The members of my critique group are my friends and that comes across when we are helping each other. We care about each other.

Often writers cite the inspiration they receive from their critique partners as a reason they belong to a group. They can inspire you to write better and to produce pages. Sometimes the discipline of having to write a certain amount for the meeting is great motivation to create.

At the beginning of my critique meetings we always share any news in the industry (as well as what is going on in our lives). Networking is important in our profession and it helps to gather as much information as possible from different sources to stay on top of the ever-changing market.

5. Getting positive feedback/brainstorming: Brainstorming can be quite helpful, especially when you run into a brick wall with your story. Being able to discuss your plot and characters helps you to work through problem areas and often give you another direction that makes your story stronger.

It is difficult for us to look objectively at our own story. Writers use a critique group to get the feedback we need. We may think something is clear, but after our critique partners hear the story, we may find that we need to rewrite the scene. Of course, this is done in a professional, caring manner and hopefully specifics are given to help you rewrite the scene to make it stronger.

1 Comment

  1. I recently joined a critique group but I’m having second thoughts. Great group of gals. Everyone is very supportive and the group rules are okay. It’s just that I feel I’m not ready yet.

    Not that I’m not ready in the sense that I don’t want to share my work or I’m afraid of the feedback. I can handle that. I’m not ready in that I’m working on the first draft of a novel, and I don’t want to get a whole lot of feedback on the early chapters before I even know where the story ends up. I’d like to get the first draft down and then get feedback.

    So a writer has to consider how best to utilize a critique group within her writing process. Some folks want and like very early feedback, almost like being the lead writer in a team of writers. Others like me want to get it all out–the good, the bad, and the ugly–before letting others have at it.

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