Part of the writing fun I’m involved with includes Triangle Writers and Asheville Writers. Triangle Writers was a happy accident. Originally known as the Cary Writes group for two years, the former organizer disbanded the Meetup group because he did not want to pay the annual $144 to Meetup. (When someone steps down as a Meetup organizer, the entire group gets sent an email. If no one steps up within 30 days, the group is deleted.) I loved my critique group and didn’t want to see it dissolve, so with a few clicks I entered my credit card information and took over. I changed the group name to Triangle Writers because it wasn’t exclusively for those residing in Cary, although that is where we met at the time.
This happened in the fall of 2009 and the group had about 80 members. There was one critique group of about 6-8 people that met regularly. Today Triangle Writers has 385 members. We have critique groups that meet all over the Triangle: North Raleigh at Triangle Town Center, Brier Creek, North Raleigh between the beltines, and (starting this week) in Holly Springs. One of the members who is spearheading the Holly Springs writing group asked me for some tips about leading a critique group. I thought, Hey, what a great idea for a blog post! So here are the tips I sent her:
- Choose an easy-to-manage file delivery/sharing method. I was using Google Groups to send/share files with everyone, which allowed easy sending for everyone since it wasn’t necessary for every person to have each individual email address. It also kept the files confidential between those in the group. Some writers are
paranoidnervous about putting their work out there. Especially memoirists. Today I would use Google Docs and make the documents accessible only to those active in the critique group. Meetup also offers a Files Section where members can access files.
- Keep a schedule that’s easy to remember. Whether it’s monthly or bi-monthly, find consistent days. (Every other week is hard for people to plan ahead, that’s why 1st/3rd Wednesdays, etc. work well.)
- Choose a critique discussion format. Each person can have their turn, it can be an open discussion, or you can go around once saying positive things and then go around once saying what needs improvement. You can also have a rule where the person being critiqued is not allowed to speak–this helps save a lot of time and keep everyone focused on what is necessary: A constructive critique. You can then have the person being critiqued respond to questions after all critiques are complete.
- Preparing critiques in advance. Some groups have cold readings at the critique sessions and/or read work aloud. This takes a lot of time! I found it was more effective to read the material in advance and come with a critique prepared. If there are certain sections that need help (dialogue in particular) it is usually very helpful for the writer to hear someone else read the work aloud. (Especially if people in the group can play the part of the characters and read the dialogue as a typical conversation. It shows very quickly where the unnatural areas are.)
- Rotate writers. Try to keep a consistent rotation – it makes it easier for everyone to expect their turn and have their work ready. Let new members critique first before having their work enter the rotation. Many people just come one time and aren’t able to make the routine commitment, so this helps keep the regular writers’ work on the table.
Easy is a big theme here! Attending a writing critique group regularly takes a lot of planning on everyone’s part. Making it as easy as possible helps everyone stay focused on getting the best feedback on their work. I’d love to hear your critique group advice as well!