“The process of critiquing other writers’ work thoughtfully and intelligently will help you strengthen your own writing.” — Melissa Donovan
Critiquing is valuable to success…unless you find yourself in the wrong critique group.
Use the following questionnaire to:
- Revamp your floundering group
- Start a new compatible group
- Join the right existing group
- What help do you need? Be honest. Don’t leave off tasks because you want to avoid criticism of your weak areas. Possible tasks are:
- Punctuation, spelling, & grammar
- Word choices
- Paragraph & sentence construction
- Plot & characters
- Scene goals & hooks
- Conflict & believability
- What’s the feedback style you’re willing to give and receive? Some are:
- Frank honesty (“This paragraph is too melodramatic.”)
- Soft honesty (“You may want to tone down this paragraph.”)
- High on encouragement; low on criticism (“I like this word choice.”)
- Combination (“This paragraph is too melodramatic. You may want to tone down what Mark says to Melanie. I like your use of ‘grandiose’ in the last sentence.”)
- How much time are you willing to spend critiquing a chapter? If group members commit to more than the first two tasks under Question 1, you may spend two or more hours on a chapter. Also, the levels of writing ability will determine how much needs to be addressed.
- How many critique partners can you realistically handle? And:
° progress your own manuscript
° perform an effective job on others’ chapters
In a 6-member group, depending on tasks chosen in Question 1, you could spend 6 to 18 hours a week critiquing.
In a past large group, some marked punctuation, spelling, and grammar only, while others performed in-depth critiques. Another member and I split off to form a 2-member group of frank, in-depth partners. That worked better for us.
Maybe it’s time to break your large critique group into smaller groups.
- What rules do you expect so the group functions fairly? No one wants to feel imposed upon by members not pulling their load. Rules might address:
- Number of critiques performed to earn a critique
- Expected tasks to be performed (Question 1)
- Style of feedback (Question 4)
- What mix of writing-skill levels do you desire? Writers who:
- are writing their first book
- have completed a novel
- have submitted for publication at least two books
- have one or more published novels
Writers are readers, so all levels can add value.
- What craft development do you expect from members? A group may fail if some are learning the writing craft and others aren’t.
Activities members could choose from:
- Attend writing workshops
- Join local and online writing groups
- Read craft books from a recommended list
- Take online courses
- Subscribe to writing blogs
8. How important is it to critique in your genre?
In one group, a woman wrote Regency. Not having read Regency, I was ill-equipped to critique her work in some aspects. In another group, we had to, at least, read Amish novels. I read them and could give all-around feedback.
Join the right critique group, revamp a failing one, or start an effective one. Click to tweet.
What’s most important to you in a critique group?
When I started writing I needed a weekly group, accountability since I had to produce something for them to read, and encouragement, to keep at it and to survive rejections. The first years I enjoyed face to face contact with local groups. At this stage in my writing, and my location, the level of critique I need has taken me to the Internet, starting with ACFW’s critique group. Now a single critique partner ready to slice and dice and give in-depth feedback works well for me. Having Track Changes in Word makes it so easy!
This is a very thoughtful post, Zoe. One size does not fit all, and through the years our needs change as well. You give some great tips for figuring that out. Thanks.
I’m with you on the Track Changes, Jane. I’ve only had two face-to-face critique experiences. I think I”m better with critiquing over email when I have time to mull over my comments and even let them sit a day.
Devoting 8-16 hours a week to a critique group? Uh, no. I don’t think so. I’m having enough trouble keeping up with a full-time job, caregiving an elderly parent, and writing. There are a lot of things I’d like to do, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to prioritize.
That’s how I felt, Susan. I wanted to give in-depth help, but with 5 other writers it was way too time consuming. Having one good partner has been perfect for me.