March 14, 2017

Essential Guidelines For Writing Critique Groups

A few of our members grabbing
a bite after the meeting.
A critique group can be a wonderful resource for your writing, whether you're new to writing or with a few publications under your belt. Feedback, to some degree, is subjective, so it's important for the critiquers to know what they're looking for and what they should say to the writer.

Critique Guidelines

When we meet for our bi-monthly meetings, we have time for nine people to read their work and hear feedback from the group. Prompt and appropriate information is imperative due to our time constraints. That's why it's important to focus on the writing first. So what are the guidelines we use?

Point out something you liked.  At a conference several years ago, an editor told me if we can't say something positive about someone's work, then we don't have the right to criticize it. Not everyone agrees with that notion, but it's true a writer is more apt to listen to someone who first points out something good. Be specific when you do so. Don't just say:  "I liked it." Tell them why.

Focus on the writing. We don't need to hear about how the story reminds you of your aunt or childhood or experience with something similar. As great as that is in a casual setting, it's not going to fly in one of our meetings.

Don't repeat what someone else has already said. If someone stole your thunder, it's ok to say you agree with them, but that's all you need to say. If you disagree with them, then definitely share your thoughts.

Don't mention every single thing you liked or marked. We bring copies of what we're reading, so everyone can mark on the pages while the writer reads them out loud. Only mention what warrants mentioning. If you found a typo, mark it, but it's not always necessary to bring that up, especially if we're running out of time. If you decide a typo needs mentioning, point it out and move on.

Pass if you're not ready to comment.  There's nothing worse than someone flipping through the pages, saying, "Um, um, I know I had something here." It's better to pass your turn. If you figure it out later tell the writer after the meeting.

Write your name on the copy you marked up. Because our time is limited, not everyone gets to give verbal feedback during the meeting. When the writer looks at the pages you marked up later, they can see whose comments they're receiving and contact you with questions if they have any or can't read your writing.

These tips may sound harsh, but, for our group, it works. Some groups provide the pages a few days early, so the critiquer can read the work in advance. This provides more time for critiques during a meeting, but it does require everyone to read the work beforehand. Our group knows they are less likely to come to the meeting prepared, so our process works for us. Even if your group reads in advance, these guidelines will help you provide helpful feedback.

Don't know what to look for in a critique?  Check out these posts.

What tips or guidelines does your group use? What would you add?

Next week:  How Should a Writer Respond to Feedback?

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