Advice for Critique Groups

I’ve been to my fair share of writing groups, workshops, and critique groups over the past year or so. I’ve gone from that awkward stage of not knowing what to say about someone’s work, to having too much to share. By ‘too much’, I mean sharing information that the author isn’t ready to hear yet, or doesn’t understand. On the receiving end, I have also had too much or too little feedback from members of the group. I have grown as a writer from these experiences, and I have had the opportunity to learn from some amazing professionals.

Here are some pointers:

1) Determine the goal of the group. Is it to critique, to encourage each other, to share research on good writing resources, etc.

2) Make sure everyone in the group has a similar focus. Perhaps everyone’s writing novels. Perhaps the focus is children’s books, or poetry. Or if it’s an open approach, consider the medium when you give feedback.

3) Determine the page limit of what people will bring. Make sure everyone brings paper copies enough for everyone (or, if doing electronic submissions, choose a deadline by which everyone agrees to get their work in.)

4) Give everyone a time limit for their share and stick to that time limit. Appoint a timekeeper.

5) Avoid distractions (like getting sidetracked on tangents).

6) Have the writer share for a minute about the piece. E.g., What type of piece it is: Fiction/Non-Fiction/Poetry, Genre and Age group (YA, Middle Grade, etc.). If not sharing a whole piece, give us a sense of where it is in the story.

7) Let the writer define what kind of feedback she or he wants. It might be: general impressions, pacing, word choice, characters, dialog, etc.

8) If the writer reads the piece aloud, keep in mind that having visual copies is very important. We tend to lose our focus faster when we simply listen. After all, our first audience is readers.

9)After the writer has presented the necessary background information, the writer should then keep quiet. If you feel the need to defend your work or argue your points too much, ask yourself “Why?” Stay detached from the work. After all, these are just opinions.

10) As members of the group providing feedback, look for the following:

  • What works?
  • What doesn’t work?
  • What questions arise as you read it?
  • Is there anything really unclear or confusing (Unanswered questions are okay), or is there somewhere that you lost your focus. Just note these areas. They might be helpful for pacing.
  • You may offer solutions, but AVOID trying to write the piece for the person.

11) When you present your feedback, consider framing your feedback with the positive. Start and end off with something positive. And your ending piece could be as simple as: “I am curious to see what happens next,” or “I like the way your writing style is very clear/visual/sensory/poetic/etc.”

12) The group should determine ahead of time what kind of interaction the writer should have. Is there time for the writer to answer the questions asked? Is it necessary?

Remember that a critique group is as individual as the people in it. Every group has their own way of doing things. These ground rules are what I have found works for me. What works for you may be different as you find your own approach.

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