By Rebecca Gernon
What is a critique group? A critique group is a small group of writers who meet regularly in person or via electronic methods to read the writing of other members and offer constructive criticism. My groups have always been in person because I think face to face contact is best, but I do email my manuscripts to several writers who do not live near me for comments. Six to eight members is a good size, because your writing will be reviewed in a timely manner. Some critique groups only read a certain genre, determine what a group reads, before you join.
How does a critique group work? The members meet at a set time, usually weekly, but they could meet every other week. Once a month is not enough if you are serious about your writing as there will be a large gap between submitting your writing and it’s review. Most groups meet for 1-2 hours and review the work of several writers at a meeting. Prior to the group meeting, members who have writing to be reviewed email or give a hard copy to each member so they can read it and have their comments prepared before the meeting. There should be no fee for the critique, even if you use an online group.
What are the pitfalls of a writer’s group? For me it is writers submitting 10-15 pages on a regular basis, which requires a great deal of my time to critique, so I would suggest you limit the number of pages that can be submitted for critique. With 2 meetings a month, each writer in a group of 8 should have a chance to present something and have it critiqued with in a few weeks. Have a time keeper so the critique and discussion of each writer is limited to 15-30 minutes, depending on the number of writers being critiqued and the length of your meeting.
Purpose of critique group? A critique group is not a proofreading group or your personal editor. Your computer program should correct spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. The critique members should read your manuscript for flow, understanding, character development, and plot. While being critiqued, the writer should listen without making comment to the suggestions and criticisms, unless asked a specific question. After all have given their critique, an open discussion between the writer and the other members allows the writer to gain additional feedback. Be prepared to have your feelings hurt. What you think is a glorious piece of writing, may look like an ugly baby to the other members. I know, I have felt that way many times. After a day or two, review the comments and be honest with yourself. Perhaps they are right. Your characters might be weak or the dialogue shallow. The article may be disjointed. The purpose of the critique group is to gain a variety of opinions and suggestions on how to improve your writing.
After my work has been critiqued, what’s next? Rewriting of course. If you are writing a novel, employ the suggestions given for your first chapter to the following ones. Bring the improved draft back for another critique. If you think your first draft is wonderful and perfect you are sadly mistaken. 99% of the first drafts should never be sent to an editor or publisher. A 4th or 5th draft might be ready for publication. After rewwriting, unless there is a deadline for the submission, set it aside for several weeks, then read it outloud to listen for errors, and determine if it is easy to read. If you stumble over passages, so will your reader. Rewrite.
Critique groups are helpful. I have been in several. They vastly improved my writing, informed me about workshops, conventions, calls for stories they saw in magazines or on the internet, forced me keep writing on a regular basis, and best of all, they were people who understood the need to write, the pain of rejection, and the joy of acceptance. Your family and friends can not be your critique group because they probably can’t be honest, don’t understand the writing process or your frustration when rejected.
How do I find a critique group? Bookstores and libraries often sponsor critique groups. Search on line for writer groups in your area. Attend a nearby writers conference and ask people there about starting or joining a group. Ask your library if you may post a sign and start a group. I joined my first group when I saw a sign about it in a book store. There were 3 people at the first meeting, much later the group had swelled to over 15 members, too many for me, so I joined a smaller one. After more than 15 years of serious writing, I still need a critique group. I hope I never outgrow the need to share my writing with other writers or receive their opinion.
Blessings to you and keep writing.