February 6, 2018
Note From Rochelle
Happy February! The groundhog predicted six more weeks of winter (say it ain’t so!) but the days are getting longer. And this new month also brings new possibilities. If you forgot about your resolutions in January, don’t worry. A new month—even a new day—offers you the opportunity to begin again! If starting a blog, launching your freelance writing career or writing a book is on your bucket list, I can help you achieve your goal. Let’s talk! Set up a complimentary consultation or send me an email: email@example.com
I’ve been thankful this month for my amazing critique group. If you’ve been frustrated by a difficult critique group experience or are longing to belong to a group that works, today’s tip will help. I’ve created a how-to guide for creating a healthy critique group.
How to Create a Critique Group That Works
by Rochelle Melander
I hear many horror stories about critique groups. Writers attend a group hoping for helpful feedback and receive harsh criticism, misinformation, or personal attacks. After one or more challenging experiences like that, many writers avoid critique groups, feel anxious about getting critiqued, or give up on writing.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve been a member of several successful critique groups that have helped me improve my writing skills. Since June, I’ve been running a positive, helpful critique group that members look forward to attending. Here are my tips for making your critique group work.
How to choose participants
Thriving critique groups start with the right group of people.
+Choose participants who are writing in the same or similar genres so that group members can offer informed feedback. It’s tough to comment on a genre we know nothing about.
+Look for members who have a similar level of experience as writers.
+It can be helpful to have a mentor or group leader who has more expertise and can keep the group on track and correct misinformation.
How to set guidelines
Once you have your group in place, it is helpful to have some guidelines to follow. They might include:
+What will meeting look like? My picture book critique group does not meet in person. Instead, we critique via email. My Write Now! Coach group meets on a telephone conference call. When, where, and how often will you meet?
+Consider how often members will submit and how many pages or words each submission can have. Some groups invite members to take turns submitting. Other groups have members submit a limited number of pages for each meeting.
+If you meet and critique multiple manuscripts, either in person or online, how much time will each person get at the meeting?
How to submit
After attending many critique groups and working as an editor, I’ve found that we can help our critique groups by offering the following information when we submit.
+Manuscript Purpose: What do you hope to accomplish with this piece of writing. For my book Write-A-Thon, I might say, “I hope to educate and inspire readers.” For a scene from a novel or memoir, it might be, “I hope this scene will show the conflict between these two characters.”
+Who is your audience: Define your audience or market as specifically as possible.
+What questions do you have: Let us know your questions about the piece and what kind of feedback would be most helpful to you. This will help your readers focus their critique. What elements do you wonder about? What do you want us to read for?
How to critique
It’s tough to know how to critique. Some of us tend to read for meaning while others are concerned about word choice or grammar. We certainly bring our own ideas as well as biases to our critiquing. Here are some suggestions on how to critique that I developed for my group:
- Review any information that the author gave you.
- Read the piece through once. Note first impressions, questions, and concerns on a separate document or piece of paper—not on the writer’s manuscript. Jot down your first responses to the writer’s questions.
- Take a break.
- Read the piece a second time. Make notes in the manuscript.
- What works?
- What would you like to hear more about?
- What would you like to hear less about?
- What was expressed well?
- What was confusing?
- What are your thoughts on the author’s central questions?
- Finally, review your notes from the first read and throughout the manuscript. Write a note to the writer, answering their questions and addressing the questions above that pertain to this piece of writing. As you offer feedback, remember:
- Be aware of your own preferences and biases.
- When you give feedback, try to be specific. Instead of, “This is a fun story,” offer concrete information: “When you talk about your cooking disasters, I laughed. The way you heighten tension with each disaster being bigger than the previous one works really well.”
- Provide a reason for suggested changes.
- Always start and end with a positive comment.
- Provide your feedback in a constructive, positive manner. Before you send or present your critique, ask: “Is this helpful? Is this kind?”
How to receive criticism
+It’s natural to get defensive, overwhelmed, or frustrated. Take a deep breath and remember that the feedback is about this draft and not about you, your talent, or your potential as a writer. Resist the urge to defend yourself or your manuscript.
+Ask clarifying questions. Instead of, “Well, I used second person because I was trying to talk directly to the reader. Famous writer X does that really well.” Maybe try, “Can you say more about how the second person point of view didn’t work?”
+Listen or read the critiques. Take a break before you make changes.
+When you get back to your manuscript, consider the feedback and how you might apply it to your draft. Create a new document and try out whatever parts of the critique make sense to you. Dismiss what does not work.
How to find a critique group
I’ve been in several critique groups over the years. I’ve found them through chance, writing friends, writing coaches, and membership organizations. Here are the best ways to find a critique group:
+Writing membership organization. My current critique group is through the Society of Children’s Writers and Book Illustrators (SCBWI). If you belong to a membership organization, check their website will to see if they offer critique groups.
+Colleagues. Do you hang out with other writers? If you have friends, colleagues, or writing partners who are at about the same level of experience, you might start your own group.
+Writing classes. Many writing classes include an element of critique. Whether offered through a local college extension program, a writing studio, or online, these groups are often moderated by an experienced teacher.
If you write nonfiction or memoir and are looking for a group, the Write Now! Coach Critique Group starts February 20 with an orientation meeting. I’ve created this group to offer a safe space for writers to share their work, stay accountable, and increase their confidence. The group is limited to six members, and a few spots are already taken—so sign up soon. If you need more information, visit the Write Now! Coach Critique Group page, set up a consultation or send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org