Last week, we talked about critique groups. This week, I wanted to share some keys to creating an effective critique group. Let me paint a picture of what I mean when I say “writer’s circle”: A group of upwards to 10 (more than that gets difficult) that meet regularly (weekly or twice a month at least) to read aloud and critique each other’s work. They write as much feedback as they can, and then take turns giving oral feedback where appropriate. Afterwards, they may stay and chat about other writer-related topics. The group is for serious writers who want to publish (traditionally or self-publish), and (hopefully) open to all skill levels.

Giving credit where credit is due, a lot of this comes from my writer’s guild: The Houston Writer’s Guild.

Trust and Encouragement

Any good writer’s circle must be a place where everyone trusts the other members. This is difficult. There is always that one person who seems to know everything and bleed others dry. Still, writers (especially new writers) should fee safe attending on a regular basis. This happens when members care about other writing of other members. Even if you don’t have something to bring, attend and give good feedback. Try not to miss. You will be able to keep up with longer stories. If you care — really care — about the others’ stories, they will care about yours. Also, encourage writers by being tough on the writing but tender on the person. Don’t forget to mention the positive. Writing is tough and we all face rejection constantly. A little encouragement can keep someone trucking through.

Established Ground Rules

Meeting with other writers is a lot of fun, but lets not forget we are serious writers who want real feedback. This isn’t purely social. Let’s get to work. To that end, its important to establish ground rules up front and (gently when needed) remind everyone of those rules. Established rules will keep one person from hijacking the entire session to argue about comma placement, or bringing double the amount of pages. Some good guidelines (from groups I have been in):

  • Timeliness: respect the time of others by showing up on time and ready to go.
  • Limited page lengths: I have found 5 to 10 pages to be the most that really works every week. A smaller group may be able to do more, but you won’t get as strong feedback and people will start to drift off during the reading. Be sure to bring enough copies for everyone!
  • Focus on big issues verbally: but write as much as you can inline. Don’t bring up grammar, or a lot of word choice. Just write it and let the writer do what they will.
  • Offer specific feedback: when possible. Although DIB (do it better) can be very helpful.
  • Time limits: it never hurts to say “Everyone gets 15 or 20 minutes.” It doesn’t have to be a hard-and-fast rule, but it will keep everyone fresh and able to concentrate for the last few who read.
  • Rotate reading order: If the same person reads last each time, I’m sorry, but they won’t ever get good feedback. People get hungry and tired and drift off.
  • Presentation of best work: don’t bring what you wrote 10 minutes before the group. Edit through it yourself first. Respect everyone’s time. If its been a busy week and you don’t have anything, come anyway and give feedback. You’d be amazed how much you learn from editing other’s work.

Differing Perspectives

This is a debated one, but I like groups that have diverse writers in them. As I said in the last post: “stories are still stories. Any good sci-fi will have elements of mystery. Any good mystery will have imagination (which is fantasy’s strength). Every story should have some suspense, and most have a romance in there somewhere. You will eventually come to a scene where the suspense just isn’t working. How great would it be to have a suspense writer be able to share their experience.”

It’s also nice to have experienced and less experienced writers. While it may be frustrating to the more experience, it does help remind us of the fundamentals. And, seeing the passion of a new writer is contagious. It will help you through your own, “why am I doing this,” spells.

Just Do It

We’ve talked about writer’s circles, groups, guilds, and the like. If I haven’t convinced you yet they are worth it, I never will. Just try one for a couple weeks and see how it fits. It can be difficult to find the right writer’s group, but once you do, it will change your writing forever. I promise.

If anyone has comments about how to find a good group, leave them below 🙂

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Chris Michaels

Storyteller. Researcher. Coder. Innovator. I seek to push the boundaries of storytelling and education.
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