I’m about to go to overseas with the military, and I don’t think I’m going to find a writers’ group like the one I’m leaving here. Perhaps you can relate to not finding a good group where you are.
What’s stopping me from starting my own group? Fear of a challenge I’ve never tried before? Fear based in lack of experience? Worry that I wouldn’t know where to start?
After the A to Z and the two add-ons, I’ve covered the essentials for how to critique. The only question I can think to answer now is, “How do I run a critique group?” It’s simple once I have a plan.
To answer that question, I’ll steal from the guidelines used at the lovely group I attend. This is a starting point; these can be altered to suit whatever an in-person group needs, and can easily be adapted for an online group.
1. We set up a monthly date. Ours is the fourth Tuesday of every month. A monthly group means I’m not always critiquing or writing a submission. It’s manageable for me. Your mileage may vary.
2. We say submit up to 1200 words a week before the meeting. Setting that limit helps ensure we can all read the submissions even if we have busy lives. We’re pretty flexible about it; I usually submit a longer piece with a 1200-word spot marked so that if someone is willing to critique more, they can.
3. We have a standard format for submission. This seems nitpicky, but there’s a reason “A” is all about appearance. I got a comment from someone judging a competition, stating that the vast majority of submissions were disqualified because people failed to follow the guidelines on format. Ours is: header with last name/title on left, page number on right. First page upper left has name, address, email, and word count. The whole submission must be Times New Roman, double spaced.
4. Our guidelines restate that we should submit a week ahead, but they leave room for late submissions and encourage participants to come offer critique even if they didn’t submit anything that month. Everyone’s input is valuable.
5. We normally submit by email, but we’re trying out a Facebook group where everyone can “submit” by uploading their document to the group’s page. That way the documents don’t get lost in the shuffle of email.
6. Our group usually has five to eight participants. Eight borders on too many for our two hour meeting to cover well. We aim for a short 15-minute social time at the beginning, followed by 15 minutes of critique per submission. We actually use a timer visible for the whole group to keep everyone on track. When there’s time, we read a short portion of each entry (perhaps a page or two at most). Then we go around the room for critique.
7. Our guidelines reinforce what’s expected when your submission is being read and critiqued. Don’t cringe; no one’s out to hurt anyone. Don’t jump in to explain or defend (since we’ll never get the chance to explain our slant or ideas to an editor). Don’t apologize for what’s written. Listen fully; take what you need and leave the rest.
8. After each person’s piece is critiqued and read, they receive hard copies with comments and highlights, or they receive an email with an electronic document marked with comments and highlights.
That’s all there is to it. Seems easy, right?
It is. It doesn’t take much, it doesn’t require some amazing author or insightful editor to organize. All anyone needs is a host, a location, and some willing writers.
Adapting this to an online group is even easier: no need for a host or locale. A group could agree on a monthly timeline and submit critiques back-and-forth via email, or use an online chat feature like Google Hangouts to share together while geographically separated. And if all attempts at forming a group fail, there are online pages like Scribophile which are all about building community while getting and giving useful critique.
But this covers the basic framework. I can’t say enough good things about how beneficial a critique group has been for my own writing. I feel like a critique group evangelist when I meet other writers, and I have to tone it down so I don’t scare them off.
Perhaps you know of a group that runs differently in some key way. I’d love to hear about it in a comment.
And that’s all, folks. Everything anyone needs to at least kick off a group of their own and begin offering meaningful critiques. Thanks so much for accompanying me on this month-long journey and providing encouragement along the way. The feedback has been valuable to me beyond the power of words to convey. If there’s any question or concern not covered, shoot me a comment and I’ll be happy to respond with my take on it.
So with that, farewell. What are you doing reading blogs anyway?
There’s writing to get done!