Ok. So last week I talked about “How to Start a Critique Group.” You have cast the net and gathered together some writers, you’ve set a time and a date. Now what? You might be thinking, “oh crap. I’ve never done this before and now I am the ‘leader’. Eeeek!” Well, here are some tips on how to proceed.
Before the session...
· Remind. I usually send out an email the week before the Crit Session to remind folks that the date is coming up. I just like to make sure I am still on people’s radars. I would hate to get forgotten because a great episode of Glee was on. Its also a good way to remind them to get those manuscripts ready to be read the following week.
· Confirm and RSVP. Two days before the session I send out an email asking for an RSVP. This is in important for a couple of different reasons. A) The space we meet in reserves tables for us…I need to know how much space we need based on how many people are coming. B) I will then be able to let the writers know how many copies of their manuscript they need to bring to the session. That way we can avoid wasting paper.
o Once the writers RSVP, I let the group know who is coming and it is up to each individual writer as to whether or not they want to send out manuscripts beforehand. Some find it helpful to have time to critique before the session, especially if you are dealing with more long-form writing such as novels. Picture Books make it easier to read on the spot. For novels, you might even ask for the manuscripts a week beforehand so your group can better prepare.
At the session…
· I would not recommend more than 5-6 people per group. That does not mean you have to limit how many people are in attendance, it just means that you might have to break the group in to smaller groups. The last session I ran had 11 people in attendance. We broke up in to two groups.
· Everyone should be critiqued by everyone. If we have to have more than one group, I ask the writers of each group to get critiques to those in the other group within a week after the session. It helps everyone still feel like a community and get to know eachother’s writing styles. Also, each session, mix up the groups so people get to know everyone.
· Reading Manuscripts. There are many approaches to this. In my group we have been taking time to read each manuscript silently to ourselves and then critique. We then read another manuscript and then critique. Other groups read manuscripts aloud. There are pros and cons to each approach.
o Reading manuscripts silently. I chose this approach because I wanted the manuscript to be treated as it would be if it came across the desk of an agent or editor. Basically it has to “hold up” on paper. This has worked for my group so far.
o Having author read manuscript aloud. There is great benefit to reading your work aloud…and everyone should have this as part of their writing process. To feel how the words formulate in the mouth and the ease or unease with which the language flows in very helpful to a writer.
o Having another member of the group read the manuscript aloud. Again, it is so helpful to the author to have their work read…but it also allows the author to just listen to observe.
This is all just preference. I would recommend trying it one way and then maybe trying it another to see what works for your group, maybe even change it up a bit from session to session.
· How to give criticism. After a manuscript is read, we take turns in the group giving our critique (at least 1 thing that worked and at least 1 way to improve upon). And yes, you can ALWAYS find one thing that worked and one thing to improve! To just say you loved the manuscript is not helpful to the author. On the flip side, to just bombard the author with criticism is equally not as helpful. Therefore, this is the approach I like to take.
· How to take criticism. While a work is being critiqued, the author is not allowed to respond. Their job is to take notes and listen. Remember, if you have to defend your work or make excuses, something is wrong. Of course, you do not have to take the criticism to heart. Some comments you will let roll off your back, others you will take into consideration. But DO NOT defend your work. If it wasn’t clear to the reader on paper, then it wasn’t clear.
After every member of the group critiques the piece, I then allow the author to ask for clarification or answer any questions that the readers might have had…but for the most part the author is quiet.
After the session...
· I like to send a follow up email thanking those who made it out.
· I also like to send the dates for the next two sessions. Scheduling far enough in advance is helpful so people can clear their calendars.
A few more things to keep in mind…
· Require a certain level of commitment. In order for a Crit Group to succeed, I believe that the members must make the group somewhat of a priority. This means that they need to attend regularly. Since my group meets once a month, I require that members attend at least once every 3 months. This way we can build a community of writers who’s goal is to support and encourage eachother.
· I also cap the membership for the group. I do not find it helpful to be always adding new faces to the mix. My goal is to be a strong, consistent community. Therefore, my group is only open to new members each January…and that is only if we deem it appropriate to add.
I hope these “tips” have gotten you thinking. But remember this is only my approach, spoken from my experience. You might have other opinions or approaches. If so, I welcome you to comment below.
Good luck! Tell us about your Crit Group. J
And as always, Happy Writing!