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.
13 thoughts on “Want to start a Writer’s Group?”
I once tried a poetry writing group and left after one night. One person dominated the group and was very harsh in criticizing everybody’s work.
After this episode I thought of William Faulkner and wondered how he would have fared in a writing group with all his string of verbs and felt better.
However, I am sure a writing group is great fun for most, if not for me.
Hey Linda ~ Your experience happened to me once too. It happened long before the group I’m in now. I tried another that was mostly poetry, submitted a poem to them and they promptly told me it sucked! That’s why it’s important to have guidelines. If someone isn’t giving constructive criticism, like telling you what might help improve the work, then they need to be reminded they aren’t following the guidelines. It can be difficult dealing with personalities though. I’m finding out it’s especially difficult being the leader of such a group, but I’m still lucky to get the input I need to help my writing grow.
((((Tiffany)))) Thank you for you kind words. I volunteered to lead, so here I go … sigh.
I needed those words tonight. Had a bad ten days behind me, including today. Tomorrow comes the blog about … crying. 😦 But by the time it’s posted I’ll be smiling. 🙂
Ava & Meg say thank you for mentioning them too. 😉 You get some sleep young lady. I knew I could put the mom in me to use somewhere. Lucky you, you’re my guinea pig. Hee, hee.
As part of Lori’s writing group – I can tell you she does a bang-up job and plays the Mother role well, althought she’s been finding out that just like a Mother, the hours are bad hours and the pay sucks – but you find something rewarding here and there to make it all worthwhile.
Lori – I wish I had time to keep up with you and Marsha’s blogs, plus found out recently that Lauren’s got one going too….it’s like journaling for the world to see. It’s scary enough for me to let you guys in to critique my scratchings, don’t know if I could handle any other outside influences at this point.
To someone new to the writing group game – our group seems to tolerate my sometimes moronic obsession of using to many was’s and had’s/has’s and juggling past and present tenses, but the different takes on how people perceive your material and the suggestions and requests for clarification on my writing has been invaluable, not only to my writing skills, but to my fragile psyche as well.
In a little over a year I have come to trust, cry and laugh uproariously with these folks – they make me want to be a better writer and not give up hope. They also make me realize I’ve written complete crap – (even before I put a chapter in front of them) because there are times I can now hear some of their comments in my head even before I get to a meeting – and that has made all the difference.
I was terrifed of putting myself and my supposed “work” on display for critique when I joined this group, but I can’t encourage newcomers enough to give it a shot. If you find yourself in a bad group, look for a new one. Search for one that is well rounded, with writer’s who all have different styles and personalities.
Lori, Marsha, Susie, Lauren, Meg & Ava, Lyra & Cullen, Miranda & Trent, Ella & Loco, Dick & Frenetica: Because of you, the plot continues to thicken…..the end….
Great post Lori – you comment on a lot of things we’ve touched upon having been with a local writers group that celebrated its 10 year anniversary last October. Co-founders, including myself, published a book to commemorate the wondrous event. It outlines our experiences and gives suggestions, guidance and encouragement for forming your own group. OR what to look for when you do encounter a meeting.
Thanks for your insight and great blog!
Cool, about your book, Linda. I’m going to share your link with our writer’s group. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Good post. Had been part of a group for about ten years. Aided me in getting numerous articles, op-Ed pieces, and a book published. Group was about 30 members, but with a very strong leader and very focused on good writing for publication. Heartily recommend writing groups!
New to WP blogging so might be a dumb question, but how do I sign up to follow your blog?
Hi Barney ~ The leader of our writer’s group left this year and I took over on Jan. 1st. I’m learning it’s more difficult than I imagined, to keep writers focused on good writing for publication. I’m sticking to it though.
I believe there is a bar on the top of each WP page where it has the word “follow.” You can just click on that word and it should change to “following.” Then you will know you are following the blog. I just started my blog at Christmas time, I’m still learning myself. These things are complicated for me. I’m not too computer savvy.
Thanks so much for reading and commenting.
I should ask also, is this something you do professionally? How much time do you spend writing and editing your writing? If you do it professionally, have you always or did you have to transition into it?
Hi Nick, I’ve always written but didn’t try to get published until later in life. I don’t write for a magazine, nor have I ever written articles. I’ve been writing nonfiction and fiction stories. If you check my “About” page you’ll see what I’ve had published thus far. Usually need some other form of income as you first try to get work. I’d suggest writing and submitting things to magazines first, or small publications.
I’d check your local bookstores to see if they have any groups who meet there. If not, check for writers organizations in the state of NC, or in Asheville. I’ve been there several times and I’ll bet they have something in your town. It’s very art oriented.
BTW, I LOVE Asheville. I hope to move somewhere near there, or in eastern TN one day. I stayed at a cabin in Fletcher once and enjoyed the Unity Church write across the street. Beautiful there. Good luck.
Great post! I’ve never been part of a writer’s group, but I’d really like to be. I’ll have to check out if there’s any here in Asheville.
I hope i do. I have to save this and read it tomorrow. Busy day, but EXCELLENT post and ideas. Thank you! melis
Good luck with it Mel. Thanks for reading.
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