10 Tips on How To Find or Form the Critique Group of Your Dreams
Writers everywhere know that there’s comfort in the solitude that is the typical writing process, but it is often when we come out from behind the screen and connect with each other that we are able to make our stories great. There comes a point in every writer’s process where it becomes imperative that they receive some sort of outside feedback on a draft. For unagented writers, there is no better way to get that kind of in-depth feedback than through a critique group. It’s been said that no critique partners are better than bad critique partners, but how exactly do you find the group that will help you rise to the next level?
What to Look for in an Established Critique Group
So you’ve decided to take the next step in your writing and seek critique from your peers. Here are five things to look for in the ideal group.
1. Feasible Pacing
This seems like a pretty simple element, but it is perhaps one of the most important parts of finding a suitable and long standing critique group relationship. How often does the group you’re looking at meet, and how much writing is shared at each meeting? First, it’s extremely important to look at your own writing output and decide what you can feasibly produce in time for the group as far as submissions are concerned. And second, you must be sure that you are able to commit to critiquing the amount of work submitted by your critique partners at each meeting. Evaluation is a two-way street, and you want to be sure you are able to not only submit quality work, but also provide worthy critiques and thoughtful feedback in a timely manner. Ideally you’ll be able to find a group that pushes you creatively and helps you reach your writing milestones without making you feel overwhelmed.
2. Ideal Comfort Level
Another aspect to think about in choosing your ideal critique group is how you feel most comfortable working. Are you an extrovert who loves to meet in person over coffee or a meal? Or maybe you are shyer and prefer the anonymity of a group that meets solely online. Receiving criticism on your writing is already a very personal and sometimes overwhelming prospect, so you’ll want to put yourself in the optimal position for receiving feedback. Both in-person and online groups offer wonderful ways of interacting with fellow writers and exchanging thoughts and ideas. You’ll want to choose the meeting format that makes you the most receptive to input about your work.
3. Seek a Higher Level
As we already talked about, it is important to seek a critique group who shares your ambitions and dreams, but it is also beneficial to find a group with a writer or two who has already achieved what you want. Whether that’s a writer who has finished a draft when you are still struggling to do so, or a writer who has landed his or her dream agent while you are still querying, having someone who is slightly ahead of you in the game is both motivational and informative. There’s something to be said for being able to pick the brain of a writer who has already been through the stage you’re in. That being said, you should be wary of groups in which there is a strange “master” versus “student” environment. That type of dynamic works very well for a classroom, but it is not optimal for a peer critique group.
4. Shared Goals
Now that you’ve sussed out a group that fits your personality, style and pacing, it’s time to think about the members themselves. In an ideal critique group situation, you will share goals and ambitions with the other participants. Those goals might be related to productivity, where you are aiming to finish a first draft or a round of revisions. Or maybe you share an ambition to land an agent or a book deal. That’s not to say that every participant must be unpublished, or that every member must be agented in order to have a good connection. Your group might very well have members of varying abilities and styles who might be in different phases of the writing process, but a successful pairing will have members who share a common aim.
5. Honesty in All Forms
Once you’ve found a group that you think might be the one, you want to seek perhaps the most important quality of feedback: honesty. From a critique standpoint, you want a group that can point out the many wonderful aspects you’re sure to have in your manuscript, but you also want them to offer honest critical evaluation. You don’t learn anything from a critique partner who only has glowing words of praise all of the time, so it’s an absolute necessity to have a group that is able to pick apart what’s not working and can help you with possible solutions.
The importance of honesty doesn’t stop there. In the end, you need to be honest with yourself about whether or not a group and their feedback are beneficial to you. Of course you should give any new group a few meetings to see if the fit is right and the relationship is advantageous, but don’t be afraid to cut your losses if something feels wrong or if the feedback isn’t what you need. Sometimes it takes a few tries to find the perfect fit.
How To Form Your Own Critique Group
If you’ve looked around and just haven’t found the critique partners that are perfect for you, or if you’re looking to gather your very own group of writers, here are five steps towards forming the critique group of your dreams.
1. Look for Writers
The first step in forming your own critique group is to look for members. There are lots of places that writers today go to connect, and just as many writers looking for feedback on their work. One wonderful place to meet potential members is a writer’s conference. If you’re looking to form an in-person critique group, attending a local conference is a sure way to get in touch with other local writers who might be interested in joining you. Other great places to meet local writers are libraries, bookstores, and college writing programs. You might even consider leaving a notice on a coffee shop bulletin board in your area. Think of all of the places you go to write and learn, and start there.
2. Set Up a Schedule and Format
Now that you’ve gathered likeminded individuals looking for the critique group of their dreams, it’s time to think about format and scheduling. An easy way to find a consensus on what works best for the group is to set up an online form or survey, asking members to weigh in on format. Some initial things you’ll want to think about are: how often you’d like to meet, how many writers will present material at each meeting, the length of submissions allowed for each writer, how to best disseminate submissions, and how to handle recruiting and evaluating members. Oh, and don’t forget an awesome group name!
3. Submit Your (Quality) Work
So you’ve set up the perfect format and recruited awesome new members. Now is the time to submit your work to your group. It’s important to always put forth your best work and have a goal for feedback in mind. The last thing your new group wants to do is play proofreader to your messy manuscript, so be sure to present coherent and polished work that is ready for evaluation. You’re putting in a lot of time and effort in critiquing your peer’s work and expect quality submissions, so be sure to offer up the same in return.
4. Meet & Critique
The legwork is done, and now it’s time for the fun. When you meet with your new group, be sure to arrive open minded and ready to receive feedback. Listen, take notes, and try not to be defensive. Remember that critique is highly subjective and that not every reader is going to offer suggestions that work for you. And when it’s your turn to offer up your thoughts, be honest but kind. You might consider the compliment sandwich as a technique, beginning and ending with what’s working well, with constructive criticism in the middle.
And when it’s all over, be thankful for the time and effort your group members have given to you and enjoy each other’s company. Sometimes the best part of a critique group meeting is the chatter about writing and the industry that comes after the heavy lifting of critiquing is complete.
After you’ve met with your new group a few times, you’ll want to sit back and evaluate what’s working well and what needs improvement. If you have a small group and you feel comfortable talking it out in person, dedicate some time at the end of your regular meeting to discuss the group format. If you have a large group or you’d prefer something more anonymous, you can break out the online survey again and allow members to give feedback that way. However you choose to assess, it’s an important step in the process to ensure that members are getting what they need out of the group. Your goal is a long-term relationship, and that starts with quality meetings.
We’ve discussed some important things to think about in finding and forming your ideal critique group, and I’d love to hear from you. Do you belong to a successful critique group? What are your tips and suggestions for being a part of a group that lasts?
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