• 6 Tips for Forming Your Own Critique Group

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 7 comments
    May
    31

    Critique GroupTwo weeks ago we had a fun conversation about critique groups and what to watch out for when scouting for a new one — flawed formats and flawed people in particular. A few of you responded by asking about forming your own critique group and how to do it the right way.

    I don’t want to imply that I think there’s a wrong way. Different groups serve different needs. Some critique groups are more about socializing with other writers than they are about getting quality feedback. And that’s cool. I’ve never been a big believer in the whole writers-are-hermits thing, or that writers are socially inept/awkward by nature and without some occasional interaction a writer will die at his or her computer desk and not be found until rats have eaten off his/her face.

    But a little companionship with some like-minded people is good for anyone. So if your group wants nothing more than to gather for some food and drink and talk, you’ll get no hassle from me.

    But if I were going to form a critique group for writers whose main objective is to improve their work, here are a few guidelines I would try to set.

    [Tweet “Want to form your own critique group? Here are some suggested guidelines.”]

     

    Fewer Writers, More Pages

    Like we talked about last time, critiquing only 1-3 pages per writer per session in order to squeeze in as many writers as possible isn’t ideal.

    My group would involve a two-hour or so meeting with three writers per session sharing work. We’d aim for about thirty minutes for each writer, with conversations involving in-depth feedback rather than pointing out typos.

    Page/word count would take some trial and error, but I’d shoot for about 2,500 words per writer, or roughly ten double-spaced pages.

     

    Spend a Week With the Work

    The writers being critiqued would bring copies of their work the week before, or send them around via email, if you want to save some cash.

    Members would then have a full seven days to carefully construct their criticism.

    It’s a heavier load, but if you find a group of dedicated writers, you’ll all most of you will win in the end.

     

    AWOLs

    Many groups have policies stating that if you miss more than x amount of sessions, you’re out. It’s fair. All for one, one for all, etc.

    In my group, every time you miss a session, your next critique is pushed back a week.

    This will quickly weed out the people who are there only in self-interest; who show up on their critique day and then disappear until it’s their turn again.

    So, miss as many sessions as you’d like — but your turn ain’t coming around again until you’ve put in the time for others.

    [Tweet “Weed out the people who join your critique group only in self-interest.”]

     

    Screening Process: Wackos & Sickos & D-bags

    You want to join my group? Great! Let’s have a few email exchanges and then have a quick in-person meeting. If I feel like your goals and dedication and aesthetic matches mine and the other members’, welcome aboard.

    If not? Sorry, Jack.

    (Note: If you put members through this screening process and then find that your group is nevertheless composed of wackos and sickos and d-bags, this probably means that you’re one too. Sorry about that.)

     

    Those Being Critiqued Supply That Week’s Whiskey and Cocaine

    Refreshments and location and money often cause conflict in critique groups. Some groups have policies in place regarding who, if anyone, is responsible for providing food and drink. And it can get expensive, feeding a dozen starving artists.

    Some groups meet at private residences, which can make a host feel obligated to provide sustenance, regardless of what’s decided upon. What if your plan was to set out one of those jumbo plastic jars of Rite-Aid cheese balls, but the host from the previous week ordered in a full Chinese buffet?

    Other groups meet at coffee shops or bars, where some members will feel — or be, per management — required to buy a beverage. That adds up.

    Some groups ask for one-time or weekly fees that go toward refreshments.

    However you decide to handle food and drink, and wherever you decide to meet, make sure those decisions are cool with everyone in the group.

    [Tweet “Make sure your critique group members agree on food/drink/$$ policies.”]

     

    Writers in My Genre

    If I wrote sci-fi, I would fill my critique group with sci-fi writers.

    It’s not that non-sci-fiers can’t give useful feedback on my space adventure, but as a whole, is it likely to be feedback as quality as that which would come from those with experience writing and reading that genre, people who are familiar with its history and trends, its rules and which ones to break?

    I’m not staying to stay in your lane. Expose yourself to, and experiment with, genres and styles outside of your comfort zone.

    But while working on your sci-fi novel, join a critique group made up of writers working on sci-fi novels.

    [Tweet “Working on a sci-fi novel? Then join a critique group made up of sci-fi writers.”]

     

    My Ideal

    I hope that’s helpful. These probably won’t all fit your needs or goals: Writers can have many different objectives with critique groups. But there aren’t so many possible objectives that you can’t create a group made up of people who share yours.

    Last time, Marie L. asked about my ideal group and setting. It probably goes something like this:

    There are twelve of us. The other eleven are people whose company I enjoy greatly. (And hopefully that goes both ways. Otherwise it will hurt my feelings.)

    We critique three works per session; each writer brings in work once every four weeks.

    We are all working, roughly, on the same kinds of projects and in the same genre(s).

    Perhaps most importantly, we all shower regularly. I don’t mean together. I mean, we all smell OK when we show up for each session.

    Because even the best critique group can be derailed by B.O. I’ve seen it happen.

    [Tweet “Every member of your critique group should shower regularly.”]

     

    Discussion

    Disagree with or have a different take on any of these points? Let us know below.

    Have you ever started your own critique group and have tips (or, better yet, amusing anecdotes) to share?

    What happens in your ideal critique group?

     

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    Linked2WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and contributes regularly to the Dallas Morning News, Publishing Perspectives, the Observer and other publications.

     

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    Bob

    I have found that the Critique Group requires a disciplined-experienced moderator, one who has been published and recognized as a respected author. Otherwise, the group may meander through a wasteland of social minutia. In addition, time should be set aside to show a video at each session. Known, selected authors offer helpful information relevant to writing to explain their style. If the group is not learning, it is not growing. Also, it is helpful to have local writer’s invited in order to not only sell their books but also to address writing style, writing discipline, publishing options, marketing of work,… Read more »

    Renee'

    I agree with Bob. That moderator is important. It doesn’t have to be a published author. It just has to be someone everyone respects. It works for us.

    Ajax

    I would join this group. Except for the showering; I don’t think that should be mandatory.

    I particularly like your take on AWOLs. I was in a group once where a member went to England for a month for work. When he got back, the powers that be wouldn’t let him back into the group because he had missed four sessions, one more than the allowed three. That was a real weird WTF moment.

    Mark

    Not first!

    What if you live in a small town or other place where nobody seems to care about writing?

    Does anyone here know anything about online critique groups? The idea of sharing my work with people I’ll never meet isn’t attractive. How is that policed? What stops someone from just publishing my stuff?




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