Writer’s Critique Groups and How to Form Them
You’ve been writing on your own for some time now, perhaps sharing with friends and family on occasion. Maybe you’ve taken some writing classes, getting feedback from instructors and fellow students. But now, you want to dig deeper, improve your writing, get regular feedback, and get more involved in the writing community.
Enter: critique groups.
A critique group can have many variations, but essentially it’s a group of writers who get together to read each other’s work and share feedback. It can be an invaluable way to get multiple viewpoints on your work before submitting it to an agent for publication or to simply make it better.
Where to find critique groups
- Search for groups that have already formed and are looking for new members. It can be as simple as Googling your city and the search term “writing groups”.
- Find groups through your local writing center, library, or bookstore.
- If you can’t find one ready-made, don’t be discouraged. It’s the perfect opportunity to form your own!
If you plan to make your own, take some time to imagine what type of critique group you want. Does it have a specific genre or style of writing as a focus? A poetry group, for example, will be very different to one centered around genre fiction or nonfiction. What would be most valuable to you in this group?
What to consider when forming your critique group
- How often would you like the group to meet?
- Are you going to meet in person or virtually?
- How many members are you seeking? It’s a good idea to cap your critique group at a reasonable number. That way, you can read and critique everyone’s work.
- Do you want the group to read each submission before the meeting, or do you want to provide time to read them together?
- What experience level are you looking for in your members? Do you want published writers, beginners, or a mix?
Once you have a general framework of what you would like the group’s focus to be, it’s time to put together a description and send out the call.
Reach out to writer friends and invite them. Post the details of your group on your social media. You might be surprised by how many people you know have been quietly writing all this time, looking for an opportunity just like this. Share the information with any literary hubs in your area that writers may frequent. If your group meets virtually, you can cast a wider net and invite writers who live further away.
When you have a few potential members who fit the type of group you outlined, it’s time to set up your first meeting. This is where you can get to know each other and set out the group’s general rules. This is important to do before diving right into critiquing.
Having rules may seem a bit old-fashioned, but in a group where you share personal work, rules can mitigate any hurt feelings that come with the act of criticism.
Some common rules for critique groups
- When discussing a member’s submission, start by outlining what the group enjoyed about it, and what the writer did well. You don’t want to start things off with a bad review. It’s easy for critique groups to dive into suggestions for improvement, but talking about what is good in a piece is just as important.
- While the discussion is going on, the writer should listen without trying to explain or justify writing choices.
- Depending on the size of the group, limit the number of pieces to discuss each meeting, or set a maximum length for pieces up for discussion. You may also want to consider a schedule to ensure each person can participate regularly.
- Give your members notice when pieces with sensitive subject matters are submitted for critique. Having that awareness of sensitive topics, like domestic violence for instance, prior to reading can help members be in the right headspace for reading it, or give them a chance to opt-out if it’s a subject they find confronting.
- Decide in advance if the group will submit feedback in writing or verbally discuss their notes with the writer.
- Plan how far in advance members will share their pieces to provide enough time to read them all before the meeting. If you read them together, make sure you manage the number and length of the pieces so you will get through them in the time allowed.
- Be sure to set meeting dates and locations in advance. Having the time and place on your calendar for the meetings makes you more likely to hold that time. The deadlines to share your work can also serve as an excellent motivator to get that story, poem, or chapter completed.
Remember that this critique group belongs to you and your members. As long as you agree on the group’s goals, how it all works is up to you. Some long-running critique groups have strict rules, allowing new members to know exactly what they are signing up for. Other groups are more informal. For a new group, it may take some time, and some trial and error, to get everything running smoothly.
Not everyone interested will be the best fit for your group’s goals. Regardless of your structure, members may come and go over time as they move, have family commitments, or their writing goals change. This is normal, so don’t let it discourage you.
For those of you who have been part of a critique group before, how did you find your members? What rules worked for you? What advice would you give to writers forming their own critique group for the first time?