Loved ones usually can’t give us objective feedback. For that we need a good critique group, one made up of four to six writers who share our interests and goals. How do you find them? The best bet is to recruit them from a writers’ organization or a writing class. If neither is available, post a notice at the library or bookstore. If that fails, look for an online group.
Turning several writers into a useful (possibly inspiring) critique group takes time and patience. Once established, many groups continue for years. In my experience, you improve your chances of having a great group if you remain flexible but follow these basic steps.
1. Before committing to a group, discuss:
*** the compatibility of writers’ current and anticipated projects:
*** the time each writer can devote to writing and critiquing:
*** the preferred frequency and location of meetings.
2. Writers should agree on the following:
*** the amount of material a writer can submit to the group at one time;
*** the deadline for submitting material before each meeting (critique before, not during, the meeting);
*** members’ responsibilities (e.g., critiquing—not just marking typos—of all work submitted and submitting occasionally);
*** a coordinator who will deal with scheduling, etc.
3. During each meeting, follow an established procedure, preferably silent author-single speaker. Under this plan, no one interrupts as each critiquer takes a turn at commenting on a manuscript. Often a group modifies this to allow the author to ask for a clarification and other critiquers’ opinion of a specific point. A group may suspend the rule to discuss an issue, but it’s critical that the author listen rather than “explain” at length.
4. Be honest but constructive. Be professional, not personal.
*** Start by summarizing the piece’s strengths but noting any major weaknesses.
*** If you are the first critiquer, be thorough; cover minor and major points.
*** If you’re not first, focus on points no one else has mentioned and on major points where the writer needs to hear different opinions.
*** When everyone has finished, the author may ask for suggestions.
*** Suggest—not dictate—changes, always remembering this is another writer’s work, not your own.
*** Give the writer the manuscript with your comments written by hand or on the computer.
If you get into a critique group where writers offer destructive rather than constructive criticism or seek nothing but praise of their own work, leave the group and find another.