Critique groups have negative feelings attached to it for many writers. That does not have to be the case though. Chances are the first group you find and try out is very likely not going to be a perfect fit, so try several different groups before you commit to one or give up on the idea.
I was a part of a social writing group for a couple years before I became a part of a critique group that was just starting out. I’d heard all the horror stories about groups that took pleasure in ripping apart someone’s work for the sake of sounding better than them. Some groups out there are awful! Don’t stick around for those. Don’t support them. Walk away.
Sometimes, if you have trouble finding an existing group, you might want to start one. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Many writers I know that are successful have said they are a founding member of their critique group. Often, those who stick with the group will one by one get published. They all grow together.
Esther is the person who started our group. She put a message on the NextDoor app asking if there were any writers out there interested in creating a critique group. I said yes along with maybe 10-15 other people. We set up a time and place to meet. Esther brought some guidelines for the group similar to what I’ve laid out below. We discussed them, made some adjustments, and all agreed to the guidelines. For the first several meetings there were a lot of us. 8 or so. Over the next few months, a few people dropped due to time constraints or medical issues. Life just happens. We’ve been together for almost 4 years now I think. There are about 5 of us that are regulars. It’s the perfect size.
So here is something similar to what my critique group started with. At the bottom is a link to a Google Doc that has been prettified for sharing with others.
Part 1: Rules for Critique
- Be kind. Think before you speak. You can point out something for improvement without using sarcasm or making it personal.
- Remember to phrase comments about the work, not the author.
- Is what you are saying helpful? Is it specific or general? (Specific is more helpful than general)
- Make a sandwich: Say something good about the piece, something that can be improved, and something else that is good. If you have 30 things you want to criticize, that might not go over well. That would be demoralizing. Decide on 1-2 areas in which they can grow and say those. We can’t improve all at once. Focus on the thing that will make the most impact.
- Listen. One of the most important skills is to listen to feedback. You are not allowed to answer questions, respond, explain anything, or defend your writing. They are going only by what is on the page. Just like an actual reader, they won’t have the benefit of the author explaining anything. Brandon Sanderson talks about this in his BYU lecture on writing groups.
- Do not monopolize time. You might start out setting a timer for reading and a timer for feedback at least until everyone in the group gets a feel for the time constraints.
- Leave bias at the door. You might not be a fan of a certain genre, keep that in mind as you form your comments. You might personally hate romance love triangles, so you might not want to comment too harshly on someone writing a romance love triangle story.
- Do not take negative comments personally. No one is perfect, so don’t be upset if critiquers have something negative to say. It hurts…even if given with kindness…but this is how we grow. Eventually, you will learn to adjust your mindset and get used to receiving the feedback with the level of detachment necessary.
- Mull over the Feedback. It is a natural knee jerk reaction to defend your writing/decisions. This is why it is important to not talk while receiving feedback. I have always found that after mulling over the feedback I was given and getting some distance from the emotions, I am able to see what the feedbacker was trying to tell me. They are more often than not, absolutely correct.
- If you hear the same feedback from multiple people, then you likely need to take a serious look at this issue because they are probably right.
- You have the right to politely ignore some comments. If you write a certain genre and one of your group members doesn’t like an aspect of your story and they don’t ever read the genre you are writing, they might just not understand the genre norms. You have the right to ignore their comment if you feel it is appropriate. Just nod politely and do what you feel is right for your story. Do not argue with them! If you are constantly dismissing everything everyone says, then you might need to re-evaluate your attitude/mindset or re-evaluate the group you are in.
If you have a member of the group who refuses to abide by the rules, they need to be asked to leave the group. If the person is allowed to persist the whole group will fall apart eventually.
Here is the link to the Google Doc which contains Part I and II. Part II is the step by step instructions for creating your own critique group. Please feel free to use and share it as you wish; all I ask is that you leave the CC on there with my website, even if you change it to meet the needs of your group.
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