Four and a half years ago, I set out to start a writer’s critique group with some people I met at a community writing class. It fizzled out within three months. Directly after it went awry, I got an email from the teacher of that class informing me of a critique group starting up at the local Barnes & Noble.
I’ve been part of that writer’s critique group for four years now. It’s been one of the biggest blessings in my life. At the same time, it’s difficult to keep a writer’s group strong and steady.
Being part of a writer’s group has its good & bad points.
- Good: No matter how much you think you know about writing, you will learn something new at every meeting.
- Bad: You might not always like what you learn because you may find out your writing isn’t as “readable” as you thought.
- Good: You’ll make wonderful new friends of like mind.
- Bad: You’ll have personality clashes with others that will make you crazy.
- Good: You’ll deal with the personality conflicts because the general feedback is priceless.
- Bad: Some days you’ll feel like you have no writing talent at all because of a particularly hard critique meeting.
- Good: Some days you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world because your fellow authors got lost in your story and can’t wait to read more.
- Bad: Sometimes you’ll be afraid you critiqued someone too harshly.
- Good: Sometimes they’ll thank you for pointing out something that truly helped them.
A set of guidelines will help the group to remain cohesive. Since I’ve been made the leader of this group, it’s getting more difficult to enforce those guidelines. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but if an author isn’t contributing it may cause others to drop out of the group. For example:
- Before submitting work to the group, edit to correct typos, grammatical misuse, and other errors. Present your submission polished to the best of your ability. Make sure your edit is clean enough to submit to a publisher. The critique group is there to give it one last check for any minor mistakes you might’ve missed. If any critiquer receives a submission they know is not edited to best of the submitters ability, that critiquer may return the submission uncritiqued with a request to resubmit.
After four years, I’ve learned that this one guideline is the most critical. When you receive submissions that look like a messy first draft, it can take an entire meeting to go over and correct. This takes time away from other writers who are looking for feedback as well. I’ve seen some authors quit because of sloppy submissions taking up precious meeting time.
Here are some Do’s and Don’t’s for the process.
- Do: Read and critique emailed submissions on your own time and bring them to the meeting.
- Don’t: Show up to a meeting unprepared to offer feedback for your fellow author.
- Do: Offer constructive criticism with helpful tips on how to smooth out writing. Look for confusing sentences, run-on sentences, repeated words, passive words, point of view shifts, etc. Make sure plot-lines are flowing smoothly and dialogue is authentic.
- Don’t: Use negative words when critiquing like “sucks,” “terrible,” “horrible,” etc.
- Do: Support fellow authors by encouraging and pointing out the especially good part of their work.
- Don’t: Do someone else’s re-write for them.
- Do: Set an agreed upon word-limit for submittal that allows for ample amount of time to discuss.
- Don’t: Talk on a cell phone, check the web on iphone, or text during a meeting.
- Do: Join in with other critiquers to help with feedback.
Another important issue that may occur is the size of the critique group. If there are seven people or more, I’d suggest splitting off into smaller groups. Since our group is affiliated with the Florida Writer’s Association, ours grew quite large. We’ve split into three sub-groups of six people in each.
So many critique groups go by the way side. I’m so blessed to have found just the right group of people who care about helping each other and are open to the criticism of others. Thank you my girls from Group B, and my other wonderful sub-group members.
If you become part of a writer’s critique group, you’ll be amazed at how much your writing will improve over time. It’s the best thing for writer’s to do before submitting anything to publishers. I’m offering this info from what I’ve learned over the past four years. But, we also teach what we need to learn. Hopefully I can abide by my own suggestions.